Avoiding Fights Over the Tupperware
Written by Allan D. Bogutz
For decades, Bogutz & Gordon has been providing estate planning clients with blank forms for making lists of gifts of items of personal property as part of their estate plans. Many clients never use them, but there are some benefits of actually completing those lists. Arizona law (A.R.S. 14-2513) provides that such a list referenced in your Will or Trust will be treated as part of your Will or Trust so long as it is in your handwriting or is signed by you (if typed or written by someone else).
Often, as we have helped administer estates and trusts, we have found that the biggest arguments after death have involved some of the items of the smallest values. Heirs have argued that they were entitled to something because they had given it to the decedent as a gift many years ago or that their mother had “always intended” for them to get the item when she died. As humans, we all come with emotions, and a lot of emotion can be invested in physical items that remind us of our past and the people we loved. So, in some ways, it should not come as a surprise that the little things sometimes mean a lot.
Making a list is not always an easy thing to do but it can make the distribution of your estate so much easier for your executor, trustee or personal representative if you do so.
What sort of things should you include? “Personal Property” includes any tangible items that can actually be picked up and moved around. It includes vehicles (cars, boats, airplanes), artwork, jewelry, furniture, books, collections, china, crystal, cutlery, personal mementos, war medals and other memorabilia, photo albums, music, musical instruments, computers and pretty much anything else that is portable. It does NOT include intangible items such as bank accounts, investments, patents, trademarks, real estate, homes, cabins or rentals. If you have any questions about what can be included on your list, check with your attorney.
To the best of your ability, give a good description of the items that you mean to include on the list and don’t forget items that may be in your safe deposit box. Also:
- Don’t forget to date your list; if you do more than one and items are duplicated, the most recent one will be followed.
- Don’t forget to provide the original or a copy of the list to your attorney and/or designated personal representative(s). If people don’t know there’s a list, or where it is, it won’t do any good.
- Update your list from time to time if you give away, sell, or otherwise dispose of the items on it.
A lot of people tag items to designate who should receive what. Beware: this method is not legally sound; your personal representative might honor your wishes, but legally does not have to.
You’ve heard “Good fences make good neighbors”? Similarly, if you draw clear lines in your estate plan that the administrators of your estate have to follow, there’s more certainty and less chance the recipients of your stuff will argue.