We have had two cases in the last couple of years where one of the attorneys from our office had to spend days sitting with the disputing relatives in estate cases while they took turns going through personal property and effects of their relative.
Not only was this emotional for the parties but costly from a legal fee standpoint. The parties required it since without cousel present, it could not be accomplished for a variety of reasons.
A recent New York Times article by finance writer Paul Sullivan, When Dividing Assets the Little Things Matter (4/15/16) gives all of us a reminder and good ideas on how to not overlook the personal items that may not have as much monetary value as cash, real estate, securities but have sentimental value as well as some monetary value.
When relatives go in and take personal property without agreement between the parties this can be a huge source of future conflict. Photographs are often important, for example, but with scanning companies this can be taken care of as long as one relative has not taken the albums and refused to cooperate.
This is something that one can do themselves by making lists, taking photographs or videos, etc. We find, however, that for our senior clients it is often overwhelming for them to do. We can send a paralegal or attorney to your home to assist the process which is then covered by the attorney-client privilege and is part of the estate planning process. This can even be done when parents or grandparents decide to downsize and move to avoid family disputes.
For the do-it-yourselfers, there is a company FairSplit that has an interesting concept of having licensed insurance adjusters come to your home and take photographs and videos of all items and list them with price based on square footage. This company also has a less expensive online option where you do the listing yourself.
As attorneys we can incorporate this and monitor it so the parties keep track and it is used for the final reports. With technology, there are a lot of tools that can make this entire process easier and less expensive. Lesson is though not to forget the small details and personal mementos, and get help to get it done. Advance planning and hiring someone is far less expensive than legal fees later and less painful than fractured families later.
Posted by Henry (Hank) Moravec