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Include family heirlooms, personal keepsakes in estate plans

Many Silicon Valley residents think that estate planning is all about passing on their financial assets. It is true that wills and trusts are tools that allow California residents to plan for the distribution of their financial estates after they are gone. However, estate planning also allows people to make intentional decisions about passing down family keepsakes and items of sentimental value. This is a very important piece of estate planning, as most Americans are actually more interested in heirlooms than money.

According to a recent survey, 74 percent of Americans over the age of 72 believe that maintaining their family history is a very important component of their legacy. Furthermore, 58 percent of elders agree that heirlooms are a significant inheritance. Unfortunately, family mementos are one of the most common sources of conflict when a loved one dies, as many individuals do not include their wishes for their personal property in their wills.

In order to avoid arguments among loved ones over grandmother's China and other keepsakes, it is important for families to have conversations before it is too late. Those who have aging parents should talk to them about what heirlooms they prefer to pass down and to whom. 

After having these conversations, it is wise to visit a family law attorney to learn how plans for personal items can be incorporated into an estate plan. It may be wise to create a memorandum to attach to a will. The memorandum will state who should receive certain items. This way, even if certain people are disappointed that keepsakes will not be passed down to them, they can rest assured that your items are being dispersed as you wished.

In some cases, it is wise to instead distribute items of sentimental value as gifts before death. Because taxes can be associated with certain gifts, it may be important to discuss this option with your estate planning attorney.

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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