And my Treasured Toaster Goes to...

When it comes to money and stocks, it can be fairly easy to divide up your wealth. Giving a percentage of your cash or portfolio to your beneficiaries is straight forward as it doesn't matter which fraction they receive as those types of assets are fungible. However, when you only have one family photo album or one grandfather clock, these assets are typically not able to be easily divided and quite often can lead to bitter disputes over what mom and dad would've wanted. A recent case involving a bitter dispute between siblings is reminding me that these fights happen all too frequently despite easily being able to be avoided.

To avoid those types of fights, planning ahead enables you to potentially resolve the fight with limited "bloodshed". Iowa Code section 633.276 (2007) provides that an individual can leave a signed and dated list to dispose of certain types of personal property. Thus you can determine who gets grandma's wedding ring, mom's fine china, dad's shotgun, etc. This type of list does not need to be notarized or witnessed, but just signed and dated. As this is such a basic procedure not even involving the services of an attorney, there is no excuse for not making a list of your property items. Isn't it worth doing everything possible to preserve family relationships?


Anonymous said…
Do you have any advice or services you can recommend when a family is in exactly this situation? My mother listed that everything was to be split equally, however one of the beneficiaries in insisting on receiving *all* of the important (not valuable) personal stuff on the basis that they have the only grandchild. Does this sound reasonable? We're talking photograph albums and low commercial value items. Any advice welcome as the rest of us want everything to be handled in a friendly and fair manner and it is proving problematic!
Matthew Gardner said…
No, I don't think that is reasonable. Others may have grandchidren, step-grandchildren, etc. You can agree to pass these on to their grandchild at your passing if you don't have your own grandchildren.

If the family can't agree on a division of assets, there are some options to follow your mother's directions of splitting equally. One option is a "round robin" process where you draw straws to see who goes first and then take turns selecting items until they are gone. Another option is a form of an auction, where each beneficiary is granted "phantom money" and the parties are allowed to bid on items. This permits one beneficiary to use all of their "chips" on just a few select items if they choose.

For photographs, they can be copied, unless there are one of a kind momento items.

Using an outside party to mediate may help keep some family harmony. Good luck.
Anonymous said…
Wow - those are great ideas and I can put them forward in the spirit of resolving the issues. The idea of the auction using phantom money and an independent family member overseeing is not something that had ever occurred to me, but I can see exactly how it would work.

Thank you so much Mr Gardner - I hope your suggestions also help other families in this situation. I think they will help ours.
Kadie said…
We have a situation where the estate and all belongings were left among 4 great neices and nephews. There has not been an official will reading, and am told there will not be. Our biggest issue is that 3 of the 4 people want to just hold an auction and sell everything, and the 4th does not. Does the 4th one have any rights in this case?

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