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How to avoid disputes over heirlooms in an estate plan

When people are developing an estate plan in New Jersey, they typically put a lot of focus on how their money, properties and other significant assets are distributed. Because of their financial value, many people assume that these are the things that loved ones will find the most important. However, the truth is that an effective estate plan may want to address something that people find even more valuable than money.

According to a recent report, family stories and heirlooms are worth much more to heirs than many people may realize. And they are also the source of many disputes after a loved one has passed away. Rather than dismiss items that may seem to be of very little value, people may want to take some time and consider how they may want to distribute specific, tangible items that may have sentimental value to family members and may therefore be priceless.

One way that people can figure out this issue is to speak with loved ones. Parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends may have a strong attachment to certain keepsakes, so discussing this with them is a good way to confront any issues before it is too late. Talking about how these items will be distributed can help people come up with a solution or compromise if there is a conflict. Otherwise, there is a very real possibility that one small item could spark a serious dispute between two people that may never get resolved.

Once a person knows how he or she wishes to distribute specific items, it is important to include this information in an estate plan. In addition to a person's will, trust and other end-of-life documents, he or she can also include a memorandum which details how precious heirlooms and other keepsakes are distributed. Specifically addressing these items can help family members avoid hurt feelings and confusion, which can happen when a person's will only says that any personal property will be distributed evenly to certain parties.

Preparing a comprehensive estate plan can be very overwhelming, especially when a person starts to consider individual items. However, in the long run, having one in place can keep the peace between family members and ensure that a person's wishes are respected and executed properly after he or she is gone.

Source: Market Watch, "Your heirs want this even more than your money: It's never about the money, it's always about the heirlooms," Andrea Coombes, Dec. 16, 2013

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