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Tips on how to prevent fights over family heirlooms

Most people may think that the majority of estate disputes and will contests are waged over large amounts of assets and the division of real estate or property. In reality, the majority of disputes among surviving family members relate to who retains ownership of grandma's favorite picture or other treasured trinket.

A 2012 study conducted by Allianz Life Insurance Co., showed that 86 percent of baby boomers consider their family's legacy, including stories and sentimental and historical mementos, to be the most important and valuable components of an inheritance. It's not surprising then, that estate disputes between surviving heirs commonly focus on these types of personal and sentimental items.

As with most estate planning matters, fights between surviving heirs over family heirlooms and artifacts after one's death can be avoided through proper estate planning. The first step in sorting out matters related to who gets what family heirloom is to determine who wants what. One grown child may have fond memories of a certain item whereas another sibling has no ties to the item.

Once a parent or grandparent has an idea of items to be dispersed it's important to make things official. A memorandum to a will can be used to accomplish this goal upon an individual's death. Another way to ensure items pass to intended parties is to give these items away during one's life. Doing so may, however, have tax implications.

In order to ensure an individual’s wishes are known and carried out, it's important to name an executor to an estate. This individual is responsible for ensuring those items accounted for in a will or memorandum are distributed accordingly. To avoid conflict amongst family members, it's often advisable to hire an objective third party to act as executor.

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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