Who gets Mom’s engagement ring?

When doing estate planning, we (lawyers and clients alike) tend to focus on “titled assets” like real estate, bank accounts, retirements accounts, etc.  while in reality, many of our most precious possessions are “untitled assets” or personal property.  This includes jewelry, artwork, collections, furniture, special decorations, and even pets.

In our day to day life, our mother or grandmother’s special tea pot may well hold a spot in our emotional life that no bank account could.  When a loved one passes away, it is these items, precious in our memories and family traditions, but negligible in fungible value, that cause the greatest strife.  When a parent dies leaving behind a cat and a dog, who will take care of them?  When your children remember Christmas at the grandparents’ farm, who will be the steward of the family Christmas tree ornaments?  Which daughter or granddaughter will wear an antique engagement ring?  And who will have the hope chest that has been passed down for three generations? 

These questions exist in families across cultures and socioeconomic strata and as families blend and break, the questions become more complex.   At your next family gathering, take a moment to look around and think about which items carry family memories, and perhaps ask your children or your parents which items are important to them.  This information can be kept in a memorandum with your estate planning documents, and amended as needed.  Make a note of what you’d like to go where, and let your family, friend or neighbor know why.  It can make your gift a part of your legacy in  a way that a list of probate assets never will.

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