When it comes to items that you own that are more sentimental than valuable, you may have some questions about how those items should be treated in a will that you want to create. You already know that every adult should have a will- no matter how large or small their estate is. It’s the responsible thing to do. By creating an estate plan with a will, you can ensure that your property ends up going to someone that you choose. Additionally, you allow your family to focus on your passing and your memory rather than on financial or logistical matters.
Remember that your will represents a financial plan for your estate. Personal finances are as much about relationships and priorities as they are about the pure dollars and cents of it all. The New York Stock Exchange is all about pure dollar returns on investments. Relationships are not that critical at that level of finance. However, when we consider our financial situation when it comes to estate planning it is almost entirely about relationships and how much good we can do for others. Keep that in mind as we walk through the subject of today’s blog post.
You have the power to put relationships in the correct context after your passing. How is that you may be asking? After all, you'll have passed away once your will becomes relevant. You can't do anything from that point forward to soothe feelings and help your family keep their eyes on what's most important, right? Wrong. You can do all these things right now while you’re still above ground. It’s not hard, either. To do so takes some degree of planning, intentionality, communication, and consideration. Here is how you can envision that plan coming to fruition. You can even do the envisioning while you are watching television or having a snack.
You know that you need a will. If you didn’t know that you may be reading this blog post to convince yourself one way or the other. If you didn’t think a will was necessary, then you probably wouldn’t be spending too much time on an estate planning blog post. I will assume, therefore, that you have an idea that you need to create a will. Great. The ideas that wills are difficult to draft, only for rich people, etc. are simply not true. A will is not something that is reserved for the elites of society or those of you with oodles of cash. Rather, a will is a common, sensible method of estate planning that every single person reading this blog post should choose to employ in their personal lives. Talk with an attorney for specific advice on your circumstances, preferably one with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, but at the end of the day do have a plan to get a will drafted.
Once you plan on drafting a will you need to plan what is going to be included in the document. Simply developing a plan to have your will drafted and then leaving it at that is not good enough. Rather, you need to be able to figure out how you want to move forward and allocate your possessions and property upon your passing. Listening to people’s advice won’t be the worst thing in the world for you but then again those folks are going to give you advice based on their circumstances and not yours. To develop a great strategy for your estate plan it is best to be intentional about it.
You can wander into a mess, but it is tough to wander out of one. If you made a mess for yourself regarding a certain situation you can’t expect to make your way out of it without having a better plan. Creating a will is no different. Whatever methods you have used (or not used) to get yourself into whatever situation your estate is currently in, it is a great idea for you to be able to work to create a plan for yourself to protect your assets and then distribute them in a way that reflects your wishes. Helping others may be at the top of your list. If so, think critically about what property could stand to be of the most benefit to a certain person or group of people.
Do not go into this process with no intention to do right by someone or something. Peg yourself to that goal and you will be much better off. Even when speaking with an attorney you can only gain so much by doing so. Rather, you need to be intentional once you have crafted a plan. Know your property. Know your debts. Decide how the property will be divided and whether those debts are going to be an issue for you down the road. Decide on how to attack the debt if that is something within reason for you. An attorney will help you get started but you should begin to develop an eye for detail about just what you want to accomplish and how you are going to accomplish it. That is what I mean by intentionality.
Has anyone seen a movie where a will is read aloud? I bet most of us have. We have known the scene even if we haven't seen the same movie. It usually involves an old-school attorney's office with a not coincidentally old attorney sitting in a plush chair behind a mahogany desk reading the deceased individual's will aloud to a group of family, friends, and some who fall into neither category. The attorney reads the will and it does not go according to how the deceased person's family had planned. Rather than the children ending up with the lion's share of the property, most of the property ended up being made available to a new girlfriend who is much younger than our deceased character. The family's mouths are collectively agape at the news.
How could all of this be a big surprise to the family? For one, the gentleman did not communicate the contents of his will to his family before his passing. Now let's jump back to reality. We can see why the old man may have wanted to keep everything a secret until after his passing. Maybe he was non-confrontational. Maybe he was a poor communicator. Maybe the girlfriend didn't want to become public enemy number one in the eyes of his family any earlier than she had to. Either way, the news of the will was not made available to anyone in the family before the time when the lawyer read it aloud.
This can make for some entertaining plot lines but for those of us who live in the real world, this doesn't exactly sound like a great plan. We are not going through life hoping to entertain others with our circumstances. We'd just as soon keep our lives straightforward if we can accomplish a great deal for others and ourselves. By communicating your wishes to your family then you can alert them to how you are feeling on many levels, including a sentimental level. If you are someone who owns a lot of heirlooms, antiques, or personal property that means a lot to you then your family may have asked you about these items over the years. Their ideas about the property may be completely different than your own when it comes to estate planning. Ultimately it is your decision how your property is dispersed but your family may have an emotional or sentimental attachment to one item or another.
You can talk with your family about their ideas for the property before your passing if you choose. I don't know anything about your specific circumstances and whether speaking to your family about your sentimental items will make any sense to you all. However, trying to communicate with your family about these items will almost surely be better than never mentioning them in any context ever before you pass away. This puts the family in a position where they can at least have some closure on the subject before they pass away.
What communication can also do for your family is help put any wayward family members or friends back on the path toward the straight and narrow. Consider a family member who always had a strong affection for a grandfather clock that sits in your living room. However, she has developed a crippling cocaine addiction that leaves you unable to trust her judgment or health. As a result, she was left out of your will. There are two ways for you to go about informing her based on what we have seen so far today. You can either: 1) not mention it to her and allow what happens to the grandfather clock to be a complete surprise or 2) inform her of your plan so that she may change her ways.
She may not like that you plan to leave her out of your will. However, if you are honest with her and clear about your plan then she may be able to see the utility of doing it this way. If she can find a class or other treatment source to avail herself of them then she has a chance to embrace sobriety and possibly get back into the will at some point in the future. Unless you tell her about what’s in the will then she may well just be diddy bopping along, none the wiser about how she will not be a part of the distribution of party under your will.
Consideration, to me, is that you should have a big heart and consider the totality of the circumstances when making decisions about how property should be distributed. This may mean being a little vulnerable but that's ok. When we are talking about sentimental items vulnerability, emotion, and the relationship between the two are all very important concepts to consider. It can be quite helpful to learn about your family, and their relationship to any of the properties and to begin to consider what your relatives feel about this property.
Make no mistake- the will that you will be creating is your own and should not be drafted in the hopes of pleasing another person. If you know that you are prone to sentimentality, then you may want to enlist the assistance of a friend or an attorney to help you determine how best to divide up property whose value may be minimal but whose sentimentality is quite high. It may surprise you to learn how some relative has had their eye on a particular piece for some time. Unless you had been so considerate and taken the time to learn more about your family through this process then you would not have been able to gain this knowledge
Does all your property have to go through your will?
The sooner you can act on the creation of a will, the better off you will be. The longer we put something off the greater the likelihood that the event in question simply never gets done. This is a risk, then, to wait until the last minute to think about your estate planning options and ultimately to decide on how to draft a will. You may even choose to have property presented to your family members and other recipients during your life rather than waiting until after your death to have the executor of your will go about completing this process. This way you can see the people enjoying your property. You can never be too sure of how a certain relative is going to respond to the idea of having property distributed to them. It can be a weird experience for everyone involved. Make sure you are considerate of this reality and are willing to change course based on what you have learned about your family.
Does your family have a history of making poor financial decisions? I think there is always room for improvement when it comes to personal finances. When you consider that 80% of doing personal finances “right” means making good decisions versus just 20% of it being knowledge, the room for growth when it comes to personal finances is immense. The beauty of the situation is that you don’t have to do much to improve at it, either.
Drafting a will is a great start. Remember: we are talking about behavior. The action of looking through your assets, making goals, and then setting out to accomplish those goals is what personal finances are all about. You don't need to be sophisticated; you just need to have a plan and follow it. Hopefully, your drafting a will and then having discussions with your family about why you drafted the will the way that you did will create a positive atmosphere of discussion for you and your family members. At the very least it may cause some people to re-examine their lives in terms of why you were hesitant to name them as a beneficiary. If people are being honest with themselves there may be legitimate reasons why you have decided to leave them out of a will as opposed to another person. This may be the first step that he or she needed to get their life on track and aimed at something better.
While it may be uncomfortable for you and your family, it may be better for you all to have certain arguments and disagreements now while you are alive rather than after you pass away. The shock and the anger of being left out of a will or something similar could be made worse if you didn't share the news with this person while you were alive. Feeling the emotions of you just having passed away on top of the frustration associated with the will could make a combustible situation. Many people do whatever it took to avoid being a part of that.
However, your legacy can stand as something even more than the person who passed a lot of property down to future generations. You could be the person whose legacy it is to better your family's financial status by having touch discussions with them now even if it means some discomfort for you. With power comes responsibility. It's just a matter of whether you choose to take seriously the responsibility to care for other people in your life. Talking with an experienced estate planning attorney is the first place to begin this process. You can develop goals, the mindset to achieve those goals, and get down in writing the blueprint that you need to protect your property and see to it that your assets go where you want them to.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed estate planning attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning as well as how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a probate case.