Why sentimental items can derail even the best estate plan

This article looks at how sentimental items can cause disputes to arise even if an estate plan seems watertight.

When drafting a will and adjusting an estate plan, most people strive to avoid conflicts from arising within their family after they pass away. That is why most estate plans focus on fairly dividing the value of big-ticket items, such as real estate, investments, and other large assets. However, as Forbes points out, with such a focus on making sure one's heirs are sufficiently provided for financially, it is easy to overlook how sentimental items, which may have no monetary value, can easily become the center of estate litigation and family conflicts.

Why sentimental items matter

When it comes to estate disputes, it is often the little things that make the big difference, and that is especially true when dealing with personal mementos and family heirlooms. As the New York Times reports, following the death of comedian Robin Williams, his widow became embroiled in a dispute with Williams' three children from a previous relationship partly over who would maintain ownership of the deceased actor's tuxedo he wore at his wedding. That dispute was eventually resolved, but it shows how conflicts can arise even when the deceased is believed to have a "watertight" estate plan (as was the case with Williams).

Furthermore, unlike with assets that are valuable for financial reasons, sentimental items cannot simply be sold off and their value split between surviving family members. That makes deciding who gets these items both extremely difficult and so emotionally fraught. That tension is made all the worse by the fact that many people don't bother to address ownership of sentimental items in an estate plan.

How to handle sentimental items

There are a number of things people who are worried about what will happen to their sentimental items can do. One option is to simply gift these items to family members and loved ones before one's death, as that will settle any ownership disputes concerning these items from arising later on. Another option is to create a list of sentimental items and instructions about what is to be done with each one. That list should be kept in a safe place or given to the executor of the estate.

However one decides to pass on such items, communication is key. Simply talking with one's heirs about who will be getting which objects may not be easy, but it is the best insurance against fights arising later on. Furthermore, discussing how sentimental items are to be passed on may reveal some surprises, such as one child wanting a particular recipe book that the parent may have considered to have no value.

Estate litigation help

Estate litigation is something that can be especially trying on individuals and families. The last thing most people want when they are grieving the death of a loved one is to be going to court to fight for what they believe to be fair. That's why anybody involved in estate litigation should reach out to an attorney who is experienced in handling these sensitive and complex cases. The right attorney can help clients through this difficult time and help them uphold their best interests while seeking to resolve disputes fairly and effectively.