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Tangible personal property can be source of much family contention

As our New Jersey Readers are aware, the death of a loved one can often be the source of much turmoil and confusion in families. That is especially the case where significant assets are left behind for a family to sort out. Still, even small items can be the source of big contentions.

Take for example, a little blue bowl left behind by a grandmother who originally got the item from a store-bought package of Christmas pudding back in the 1950s. To resolve the dispute that arose among her grandchildren over who would take possession of the item, their mother took possession of it and essentially hid it.

Such items, typically referred to as tangible personal property, are unique in that they can carry value in a way that financial assets cannot. The little blue bowl referred to above obviously had great sentimental value, even if it wasn't worth much monetarily.

There are a number of ways to dispose of tangible personal property, but it is well worth the time to do so in a way that addresses the possibility of family fights over such items. One can address issue in one's estate plan by including a tangible personal property list in one's estate planning documents. One can also give away the items over time as one downsizes one's property, or consult one's children about their preferences and make any necessary adjustments to their inheritance based on those preferences.

A number of approaches are possible. Most of the time, though, coming up with a plan well in advance and informing family members of it is a good way to go. While that may cause some family friction initially, in most cases there will be less to deal with than if family members have to make those decisions after their loved one's death.

Source: Forbes, "Little Things Can Cause Big Fights When A Relative Dies," Deborah L. Jacobs, October 24, 2011.

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