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Proper estate planning can prevent familial squabbles

Some may be surprised to learn that family members battling over estates don't always fight over large sums of money, property or expensive items. Often the most pitched battles deal instead with family heirlooms that have minimal value to anyone not emotionally tied to the decedent's possessions.

Sometimes the decedent is the one who sets the battle lines, albeit unwittingly. Wills that are so generic that they fail to specify which heir gets which heirloom can create a hostile atmosphere among siblings and other heirs.

While each family has a different dynamic, below are some suggestions for avoiding familial arguments and tension over your personal property after you have passed away.

-- Have frank discussions during your lifetime about heirlooms you intend to leave to your children, grandchildren and others. Ask for input from your heirs, which pieces they treasure most, and take their answers into consideration when making your last will and testament.

-- Seek appraisals for items that may be difficult to valuate. That way, you will be able to leave items of roughly the same value to each heir.

-- Don't generalize in your will. Terms like "all personal property" or "share and share alike" should be avoided when there are multiple heirs. If the estate contains numerous pieces of jewelry, guns or art, use language like "my grandfather's WWII .30-06 Springfield rifle," "the three-carat ruby ring" or "#4 in the Warhol 'Flower Series'."

-- If you know that no matter how fair you attempt to be, bad blood will result, you can expressly state that items will be sold and the proceeds split equally among your heirs.

-- If you leave a valuable heirloom to one heir, consider compensating the others accordingly with cash behests. That way, the piece stays in the family but the others receive something in its value range.

Your estate administrator will appreciate the extra steps you take to avoid in-fighting among your heirs and beneficiaries. Ask your estate planning attorney for the best solutions for your individual circumstances.

Source: Care Pages, "Dividing up family heirlooms," Marie Suszynski, accessed Jan. 20, 2017

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