Personal Assets

Personal Assets

Personal assets are items with no legal documentation to identify who officially owns them. They are also referred to as nontitled property. For example, watches, jewlry, china, silver, books, stamp collections, photo albums, personal mementos, and pets are all personal assets. According to Marlene S. Stum (2004), estate planning attorneys suggest that nontitled personal property, not money or real estate, creates the greatest challenges for families. Planning ofr the transfer and distribution of such property is just as important-and often more challenging-than making decisions about titled property. Inheritance can symbolize intergenerational transfers of love, trust, power, family rituals, and traditions, and family history. Decisions to pass on personal possessions are tradidtions, and family history. Decisions to pass on personal possessions are made within the context of long, complex, and often complicated relationships among siblings, parents, in-laws, and other who consider themselves family. For some family members, deciding who gets what possessions can be the last straw in a long history of conflict and dissension (Stum).

Seniors should make their instructions for transferring their personal possessions legal by creating both a will and (named in the will) a separate list identifying the possessions to be distributed. Such a list allows the owner to identify items and recipients and to update and change the list without changing the will. “Having a legal written list reduces the dilemmas and decisions for estate executors and surviving family members,” Stum says.

Who Get's Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?

Everyone has personal belongings-a pie plate, wedding photographs, a bseball glove-that contain meaning to them and their family members. What happens to those belongings when the owner moves from their lifetime home to an apartment, or when that person dies? It is often assumes that decisions about personal property are unimportant, trivial, or can be handled with an instruction to "divide equally among my childre" in a will. Most estate palnning resources ignore decisions surrounding the transfer of nontitled property (items without legal documentation, such as a title or dded, to indivdate who owns the item officially) as an inheritance issue. The experiences of generations of families and estate planning attorneys suggest a different reality. It is often the nontiteld personal property, not the money or real estate, that creates the greates challenges for families.

Planning ahead for the transfer and distribution of nontitled property is just as important-and often more challenging-than making decisions about titles property. Nontitield property is a decision-making issue that impacts all families regardless of their financial worth, heritage, or cultural background.

Powerful messages are ften transferred along with personal property. (Think of how a song might feel when his father leaves to a son-in-law a watch that was passed from father to son for the past three generations.) Inheritance can symbolize intergenerational transfers of love, trust, power, family rituals, and traditions, and family history. Decision to pass on personal posessions are made within the context of long, complex, and often complicated relationships among siblings, parents, in-laws, and others who consider themselves family. For some family memebrs, deciding who gets what possessions can be the last straw in a long history of conflict and dissension.

Consider the consequences...

"After Mom died, Dad remarried when he was 69 years of age. My new stepmom moved into the home where my sisters and I grew up. Then my Dad died suddenly a year later. Now my parent's possessions are being passed on to my stepmom's daughters. Do you know how hard it is to see my stepsister wearing my Mom's pearls? There has to be a better way..."

What's Unique about Personal Property?

While there are many similarities in makin decisions about titled and nontitled property, there are also some critical differences.

  • the sentimental meaning attached to personal possessions can make decisions more emotional.
  • transferring objects can involve the process of grieving and sayng good-bye.
  • objects help preserve memories of important people in our livees, family history, and family rituals.
  • decisions may involve objects accumulated over a lifetime and across many generations of family memebrs.
  • since it can be impossible to divide items equally, being fair is more complex than dividing money.
  • personal belongings have different value and meaning to each individual.
  • it is difficult to measure the worth or emotional value of personal items.
  • distribution methods and potential consequences are not well known or understood.

 Final Thoughts

Few individuals have planned ahead regarding who should get what personal belongings. When the wishes of the property owner are not known, family members are left with many dilemmas and decisions regarding the passin gon of personal possesions. There are ways to make more informed decisions about an issue that is not only legal and economic, but also involves complex emotional and family relationship dynamics

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved. www.csa.us