If your estate plan is all set, it should take care of your home, savings, and investments, making sure that your family will get those valuable estate items fairly and efficiently. Your plan will also protect your legacy from your children's potential divorces or bankruptcies. What could go wrong?
Plenty, unfortunately, when it comes to personal possessions. Personal items are typically not included in your will or trust. So, who gets those after you pass is up to you personally. Spend some time thinking about how you want your possessions to be shared with your family when you're gone. It will be time well spent.
Your family's memories of you can be connected, through your things, in deeply emotional ways that may have nothing to do with the actual cash value of the items. A bowl in which you served breakfast to a now grown-up child may have irreplaceable sentimental meaning. Likewise, a favorite piece of costume jewelry. A well-remembered sweater.
Or you may have items that are really valuable. If you don't plan to allocate that value fairly amongst family members, these might turn into flashpoints that create lasting disputes. Wrangles can be avoided about “promises” that you may or may not have made. You should also protect your things from going missing toward the end of your life or after you pass.
Take care to document clearly where you want your items to go. Here are some suggestions to make that more possible.
Assess which of your possessions have actual cash value. If you own items like an Impressionist painting or a vintage diamond ring, get them appraised. Then consider how you might apportion the value so family members will be treated equally. It might make sense to sell such items and divide the proceeds. Or, a family member might wish to buy the item from your estate.
Group your possessions into clusters, to make the gift process more efficient. Items that match should be kept together. The dining room furniture. The good china. The bedroom set.
Communicate with your family. Take photos of your possessions and think about how to offer them to your family. You can circulate the photos to one person at a time, and give them the opportunity to choose what they would like. Then keep a list, and the photos with the agreed designations, together with your will.
Your estate-planning papers are only a piece of the puzzle. How you leave tangible pieces of family history really matters too. It's for the same reason that we might treasure a faded rose from a wedding bouquet. Take care in passing along your personal things to your family and friends. Your family and friends will be more likely to remember you with warmth and respect.