How to Avoid an Estate Battle After You’re Gone

Creating a “special stuff list” will go a long way in keeping the peace once you’re gone.

Sadly, in my line of work, I see families fighting much more often than I would like. And while the media might lead you to believe it’s all about the money, oftentimes the fights are about things like Grandma’s curio cabinet full of keepsakes.

When it comes to preventing a big fight after you die, a will just isn’t enough. Even with an effective will, there is plenty of room for disagreement and fighting. Because of this, I encourage clients to create a “special stuff list” that directs certain items to the people they want those items to go to. This list, which is officially called a Memorandum for Distribution of Personal Property, is then incorporated into the Will or Living Trust.

 

Here are 7 things to consider when making your “special stuff list”:

1. What did your parents or grandparents pass down to you that you want to pass on?

2. What items bring back the most memories of your family time?
3. Have you discussed with family what items they might want?
4. How will you preserve the stories behind the items? Write out the story and record a video or audio about it. Even a few short sentences will mean a lot.
5. Don’t rely on Post-it notes, masking tape or just assume, “the kids know who gets what.”
6. Create a special stuff list and make sure it is signed, dated, and copies sent to your attorney and also kept with your Will or Living Trust.
7. In order to better identify items, take photos and include it with your “special stuff list.”
We’ve created a great resource to help you create your “special stuff” list. Download the worksheet by clicking on the button below.

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A Few More Things to Consider

While creating your list, don’t assume the things you find valuable will be the same things your family finds valuable. It’s always better to communicate about what you want to leave, and to whom, beforehand. Maybe you want your granddaughter to have your birthstone earrings, but maybe she’d rather have that old battered, blue pottery bowl that you used to make pudding in when she visited. You might never know the bowl was meaningful to her without a conversation, and you might even throw it out without any consideration, thinking, “Nobody’ll want this ol’ thing.”

A good resource on the matter is Who Gets Grandma’s Pie Plate, a resource developed by University of Minnesota professor, Marlene Stum. On her website, Stum gives tips about broaching the awkward topic of inheritance. Read Critical Conversations About Inheritance: Can We Talk? here for more. This article, from Consumer Reports, also has some good tips.