Three family members talking about family assets sitting on a couch at home

Family Feuds—When Heirs Fight Over Assets With Sentimental Value

When we think about heirs fighting over assets, it is the big ticket items that typically come to mind, such as the family home, investments, bank accounts and the like. However, it is often items of sentimental value—a mother’s necklace, for example, or a father’s watch—that cause the most contention. This is particularly true in the case of blended families. Even worse, battles over sentimental assets often lead to hard feelings that can last for years or even permanently sever relationships between family members.

How can you prevent your heirs from fighting over items with sentimental value? Many people believe that a statement in a will or trust that basically says ‘tangible personal property should be divided as my heirs see fit’ will solve the problem. However, this can lead to a host of potential conflicts. A better approach is to put specific items that you believe are of interest to certain family members in writing, and then discuss your decisions in advance with your family. In this way, many emotionally charged disputes can be avoided.

What if you are convinced that a former spouse, one of your children, or the spouse of one of your children will cause trouble no matter what you specify in your will? In this case, you might want to consider a no contest clause. In essence, this clause makes the risk of challenging your will outweigh the potential benefit of doing so. A no contest clause generally stipulates that if a beneficiary contests what the will says or its validity, his part or interest in the will is forfeited. It is important to note, however, that you should leave the heir in question enough of an inheritance to motivate him or her not to challenge the will.

Michael A. Rolando
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