In our last post, we mentioned another dispute currently going on with the estate of King of Soul, Ray Charles, and noted that his estate has experienced numerous problems along the way. Legal disputes during and after estate administration are certainly nothing new, though they tend to be more interesting with celebrities who leave behind large estates.
Estate disputes can surely occur over financial assets, but tangible personal property is responsible for many a fight as well. Because it is unique and often carries great material and/or sentimental value, such items can be the source of great contentions.
As we've noted, one of the goals of estate planning is to reduce the possibility that an estate plan will cause an eruption of discord among family members. Planning around this issue can be addressed before one's death by giving possessions away, by inquiring which items have a special meaning to certain family members or by providing written instructions as to how such property should be distributed.
Sometimes people direct the executor of their will or the trustee of a living trust to sell certain items and distribute the proceeds among the heirs. If one of the beneficiaries really desires a certain item, he or she can be allowed to purchase it from the estate at fair market value, or that person's inheritance can be adjusted in exchange for the item. As far as sentimental items, one can indicate one's preferences in one's will.
Any approach one takes with regard to planning such things out must fit one's particular family situation and goals. There is no one-size-fits-all estate plan, and each family will have their own unique way of going about it. The key is to plan well in advance and continue to make sure one's plan fits one's goals and circumstances.
Courthouse News Service, "Ray Charles Foundation Sues Seven of His Kids," Dan McCue, April 2, 2012.
Forbes, "Little Things Can Cause Big Fights When A Relative Dies," Deborah Jacobs, November 24, 2011.