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A blue book on a counter next to a bowl.

5 Things to Consider When Passing On Your Personal Possessions to Your Loved Ones

This picture is of a mixing bowl I remember my grandma mixing chocolate chip cookies in and a well-loved recipe book with her handwritten notes.  Although they have little material value, they are two of my most-prized possessions.  They remind me of the many wonderful hours I spent in her loving company.

At some point in our lives, it becomes time to think about what to do with our personal possessions.  Whether we’re moving, downsizing, or thinking about passing possessions on to the next generation, this can be an emotionally-charged decision making process.  Sometimes, we’re dealing with a life-time of accumulated furniture, family heirlooms, photographs, mementos and other personal property.

How Do I Distribute My Possessions?

In Missouri, this is pretty straight forward.  Once you have prepared an estate plan with a qualified estate planning attorney, your personal property (possessions that don’t have a title, such as furniture, jewelry, art work, and other things – but not, for example, cars or boats) will pass to the people you have selected to inherit in your estate plan.  If, however, you want certain things to go to certain people, you can create a list that references your will or your trust, that you sign and date listing the possession and the person to whom you want it to go.  Under Missouri law, this is called a Personal Property Memorandum.  Mo.Rev.Stat. 474.333.

How Do I Choose Who Gets What?

Start by asking what your loved ones would want. The answers may surprise you, as some things you value, your loved ones don’t, and some things you think are worthless, your loved ones may value.   If there’s a conflict, you still get to choose.  And maybe you leave it at that.

Other options to help include: bargaining – one grandchild gets the special music box but the other gets the favorite fishing pole; having a selection process that gives loved ones priority by drawing a number or playing card; or, having a private auction in which people are given a certain amount of “play” money that they can use to bid for their favorite items.  Alternatively, you can leave the final decision to your Trustee or Executor (Personal Representative in Missouri), who can decide on how best to fairly distribute all of your possessions including whether to sell them. But this may leave your loved ones angry at your Trustee or Executor, who is also probably a loved one.  If at all possible, and you think there might be disagreement, I recommend making these decisions before you’re unable to.

How Can I Be Fair to Everyone?

I always start the answer to this question with a simple statement, and parents already know this one:  fair is not necessarily equal.  And particularly in the context of personal possessions, material value may be irrelevant to how much your loved ones value a possession. If you’ve already asked your loved ones what they want, you’ve started the process of being fair by thinking about their wishes.  If there are certain possessions that are very valuable, like jewelry, art or other collectibles, and you want to be sure your loved ones inherit equally, you can make provisions in your estate plan for obtaining appraisals and equalizing values.

Should I Give Things Away While I’m Alive?

If you have possessions that you are no longer using and no longer plan to use, it can be very rewarding to give them to a loved one who will use it or wear it.  Seeing your loved ones enjoy something you’ve gifted them from your own life can bring you joy!  That’s a very personal decision, of course.  Note that I’m not talking about gifting money, investments, or valuable items here.  That’s a completely different discussion and should involve both your accountant and your estate planning attorney.

Don’t Worry About the Stuff.

Finally, an important note on your possessions.  For most people, it’s not their things that matter to their loved ones, it’s their time.  The time you spend, and the time you’ve spent with the people you love, is what they will remember.  It’s rarely about the material things.

A qualified estate planning attorney can help you work through the process of dividing your personal possessions. Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 for if you’d like assistance with developing a comprehensive estate or elder law plan.

** The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.  This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.

Written March 12, 2023 by Stephanie Martinez

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