Did you ever pick up a button that fell off a shirt or a screw that fell out of a piece of furniture, store it in a place that you are sure you would never forget, and later forget the location of that fool-proof storage? Imagine what your family members might experience when they need to find important things when you die or if you require long-term care before your death. When you think about it, a lifetime of accumulating stuff makes passing those items to someone else difficult. This article offers some ideas about this problem, but it is only a starting point -- you won't find all of your answers here because no single answer fits every family situation.
Many people think about listing all of their assets in their last will and testament and dictating who should receive each item. The problem with this approach is that such a list may be just fine for big items, such as furniture, firearms, or other "big ticket" assets, but miscellaneous tools and equipment, such as vacuum cleaners, bed linens, and wall hangings, may be far too numerous to list in a will. Worse yet, if you try to list all of those assets, your list will sooner or later become obsolete if those items break or are replaced by other very different items.
Indiana law allows a person to write a will that refers to a separate list that a person may maintain and update from time to time without having to update the last will and testament. The list maker can tell the family members where the list is located and the family can simply follow the list like a cookbook. This strategy works for families whose members love each other and work together, but it is less useful for families in which relatives are selfish and competitive.
A trust provides no better solution for this problem. A trust can list assets exactly the same way as a will can list them, but that approach has the same problems as a will.
Listing names of beneficiaries on labels attached to specific assets is another strategy. This strategy works well if the label is very easy to see and the family members know to look for the labels, but the listing process can be rather tedious and some labels may be hard to find. Another problem with this strategy is that selfish and competitive relatives may switch labels.
One of our favorite strategies is for a client to meet with family members, explain what is valuable, and discuss the best distribution plan. A variation on this strategy is to give a video-taped tour of the household and point out particular items of interest during the tour. Either of these strategies will work well for a family whose members get along well and can be very instructive to help those family members distribute or dispose of assets in an orderly fashion. This method also helps families solve problems ahead of time with less tension than when they must solve problems after a family health crisis.
None of these strategies works for every family, so each person must choose the strategy that seems best. As people mature and their personalities evolve, old strategies may require reconsideration.
It is important for everyone to take note that personal property are just worldly possessions that usually decline in value over time. Wise people cherish personal relationships that they build over a lifetime more than inherited assets. A legacy of love, generosity, and compassion may be the most priceless gift that any person could pass to family members.
Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and Jeff is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator and was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.
Find more about these and other topics at www.HawkinsLaw.com, add us to your Google+ circles, like us on Facebook, follow Jeff Hawkins on Twitter @HawkinsLawPC or call us at 812-268-8777. © Copyright 2016 Hawkins Law PC. All rights reserved