When a person passes away, the executor of his estate must begin the process of administering his estate. The basic steps of estate administration are submitting the Will to probate, gathering up the assets of the estate, paying the debts of the decedent, accounting to the beneficiaries, and distributing the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries.
Administering an estate is a lot of work. It also involves the assumption of a lot a liability since the executor has a duty to perform his job with the utmost care. What makes the administration of an estate even more difficult is when the beneficiaries are fighting. But what makes beneficiaries fight and what can you do to reduce the likelihood that the beneficiaries of your estate will fight?
Sometimes it’s impossible to ensure the peaceful administration of your estate. Some people just don’t get along and never will get along. There are certain things, though, that make people fight more than others.
Ironically, tangible personal property—the “stuff” in your house—makes people fight more than any other asset. Personal property, typically, has very little monetary value; in most cases, personal property has no monetary value. For some reason—sentimental value, perhaps–families fight over tangible personal property more than any other asset.
Our law permits a person making a Will to create a tangible personal property list. Through a tangible personal property list, a person can give away his assets without making mention of the property in the Will.
I’d recommend taking pictures of the items you wish to give away and numbering the pictures. You can then create a list that says something such as “Item 1, diamond ring with gold band, goes to my son Joe Smith.” You can keep the list and the pictures with your Will.
If you don’t create a list, then I’d recommend that your Will say that your executor is to divide the personal property equally among your children and that if your children cannot agree on the division of the property that the property is to be sold and the money divided equally among your children. In this way, all of your children either agree on the division of the property or the property is sold.
You might have other methods of dealing with the division—drawing straws, pulling numbers from a hat, whatever. The point is that you should develop some methodology for your executor to employ regarding the division of this property. Your family might be able to handle the division of the property without issues, but I can assure you that if ten people are reading this article, one of their families would be helped by addressing the division of their personal property in a meaningful manner.
You can also ease the administration of your estate by consolidating your assets. Many people have their assets spread out in multiple accounts. Typically, the account balances are small.
If you consolidate your assets and have one or two accounts, you will make the administration of your estate easier, and you will cut down on the suspicion among the beneficiaries. If Mrs. Smith dies and she had two accounts and all of her children know that she only has two accounts, then her children aren’t going to think that the executor is hiding assets from them.
A bit of preparation can go a long way to make the administration of your estate easier for your executor and reduce the likelihood that your children will fight over the administration of your estate.