If you've been following along the past few weeks, we've been unpacking what you should expect from the probate process and how to divide assets amongst siblings. Today we're going to continue that discussion by discussing 5ways to divide household items among siblings with help from your estate lawyer in Raleigh in the absence of a Will or plan for distributing personal articles.
Dividing a decedent’s personal and household items can be quite challenging for siblings working through the estate administration process. It's completely normal for family members to be passionate about any personal property or household items left behind regardless of how big or small the "estate" is. Furthermore, if a Will was never created, it can make dividing that property incredibly complicated. As such, there are a number of ways your estate lawyer in Raleigh can help your family work through the process.
Ways to Divide Personal and Household Items After a Parent Dies
1. Seek Letter of Intent
A letter of intent or instruction can be written by the decedent (parent) outlining who gets what. While this letter may be referred to in the Will, it isn't always included in estate planning documents. We've found that many of our clients find their parents' intentions tucked safely away in their bedside table. It's not necessarily a legally binding document, but can serve as good instructions and take much of the burden away as you start dividing personal property and household items.
2. Create a System
If your parents leave no letter of intent and there is no Will in place, the process of distributing personal property and household items can feel a little bit like a free-for-all. With no system in place, the process can turn into chaos. Therefore, your estate lawyer in Raleigh may suggest a couple of equitable systems for beneficiaries to choose the items they are most interested in keeping.
One strategy to equitably divide personal property and household items are to take turns. For example, when Lee, Debbie, and Laurie's parents passed away, they each had strong feelings about certain items that had not been specifically designated. To prevent any fighting among siblings, their estate lawyer in Raleigh asked that they each choose an item. With Lee being the oldest, he went first; then Debbie as the middle sibling, and finally Laurie.
Another approach to dividing personal property and household items that your estate lawyer in Raleigh might recommend is the lottery system. With this approach, the executor will write a brief description of each personal item on a slip of paper. For example, "mom's pewter serving dishes." The executor then puts all the slips into a hat and siblings can take turns drawing slips until all of the items have been selected.
3. Hold an Estate Sale
In the process of distributing personal property and household items, you may come across items that no beneficiary wants. When this happens, you have several options. If there are enough items, you can work with an auctioneer to host an estate sale. Then the proceeds from the sale can be evenly divided among the beneficiaries after paying the auctioneer. Alternatively, you can donate the unwanted items to the charity (or charities) of your choice.
Ways to Divide Personal and Household Items When a Parent is Still Living
It's completely possible for siblings to express interest in their parents' personal property and household items long before their parents die. In fact, if you have yet to create an estate plan, we encourage you to contact an experienced estate lawyer in Raleigh to get the process started and avoid future squabbles. We recommend a couple of different approaches.
4. Gift Special Items During a Lifetime
One way to make sure that special items go to the right person without question is by gifting those items while you are still living. For example, a grandmother may give an heirloom ring to her oldest granddaughter on her 16th birthday.
If you like this approach, we encourage you to plan ahead and gift items over a period of years to avoid paying heavy taxes. In 2020 and 2021, the annual exclusion amount is $15,000. As such, you can gift up to $15,000 per person without paying taxes on those gifts.
5. Have Beneficiaries Express Interest
Another way to divide personal and household items before a parent passes away is to have beneficiaries (children/siblings) express interest in items via tagging. For example, your granddaughter repeatedly mentions how much she loves an antique chair in your living room, so you might tag it as hers when you die. The "tag" should name the person who will inherit the item after the parent dies and can include anyone, but is usually someone in the decedent's immediate family. Furthermore, while tagging has no legal bearing, it does serve as a way for siblings to determine their parent's intent.
Hire an Estate Lawyer in Raleigh to Help Divide Personal Property and Household Items
If you are finding that dividing personal property and household items has gotten out of hand, we encourage you to seek the counsel of a qualified estate lawyer in Raleigh to guide you through the process. Contact our legal team for more information.