By Jason Palmisano
The disposition of a decedent’s tangible personal property has the potential to cause more animosity among the beneficiaries of an estate than the disposition of any other type of asset. Sibling rivalry, unresolved conflict, children from different marriages, step-parents, and in-laws can be a recipe for disaster when two (or more) beneficiaries want the same item of tangible personal property. Hurt feelings are compounded because of emotional attachments to a particular item and the grieving of a loved one’s death. The following are some practical steps to help minimize the risk of family disputes over tangible personal property:
1. Florida law allows an individual to prepare a separate writing disposing of tangible personal property if the separate writing is referenced in the will and the separate writing is signed by the individual. Confirm your will contains this provision. If it does then you may execute a separate writing that specifically lists meaningful items of tangible personal property you want to pass to a specific beneficiary. Of course, you also need to specifically name the individual you want to receive the property. Further, you should instruct how the item is to be distributed if the named beneficiary does not survive (i.e,, do you want the item to go to the beneficiary’s children?). Be sure to sign the separate writing. If your will does not contain a provision allowing for a separate writing then you should update your will with this provision.
2. Consider holding a family meeting to talk to your adult children about which assets you want to be distributed to certain individuals after your death. These desires must be documented in a separate writing as discussed above. You can even take pictures or videos of the items to document your wishes.
3. Give away meaningful possessions to beneficiaries during your life. Avoid giving away items on your death bed as these bequests are more susceptible to challenges and questioning by loved ones who may feel cheated.
A little extra planning for your tangible personal property can go a long way in preserving family harmony after your death. Talk to your attorney to ensure you are doing all you can to properly distribute your tangible personal property pursuant to your wishes and to help avoid conflict in your estate administration.