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Personal items may be inexpensive, but are priceless for their sentimental value.

My clients often come to me with a list of assets such as homes, bank and investment accounts that they would like to pass to their heirs.  What is usually missing are the personal items that may not be expensive, but are priceless for their sentimental value.  It is often these items that will cause the big family fights between children who feel there was not a fair division of these assets.

Most attorneys do not spend their time assisting with the division of the personal items; but that could be a huge mistake.  “There aren’t any magical solutions,” said Marlene Stum, a professor in the family social science department at the University of Minnesota and author of “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” in the New York Times article When Dividing Assets, the Little Things Matter .  The articles describes the emotional ties many children have with personal items.  Her book offers six major principles to help people divide assets without tearing apart their family.   Some of the principles should be obvious, like recognizing that items have different meanings to different people, that divisions like this come at emotional times and that no one in the family really knows the best way to do this.

I personally remember the remarkable way my sister, cousins and I divided my Grandma Sara’s tea sets and jewelry.  We went around a circle each picking one piece after another.  The process was emotional as we discussed each item and different memories of our loving grandmother.  Since fairness means different things to different people, the process, whether it be drawing lots, letting people pick in birth order or devising something else to divide is valuable. What’s important is that the process is followed.

“Even if you’re really irritated that one sibling got what you really wanted, if you bought into the process, you’re probably going to buy into that outcome as opposed to the sibling who comes in and cleans out the house,” Stum said.

There is actually a software tool called “FairSplit” that allows children to divide assets without worry.  According to the website, the “system helps move all parties toward agreement and lets each party know that the system provides them a fair and equitable way to divide. FairSplit helps divide things, not families.”

Sometimes the best strategy is the simplest one: Ask people what they want ahead of time.  Also, it may also be simple to enjoy giving the gift of your personal items to your children while you are still alive.

Of course, such talks force people to confront the inevitability of death. The alternative is to keep quiet and risk a family divided. “You need to recognize the powerful messages in who gets what,” Ms. Stum said.

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George Michael’s partner ‘gotta have more than “Faith”‘ to inherit from the superstar.

At only 53 years old, it is hard to believe that superstar and former Wham! Frontman, George Michael, tragically died of natural causes on Christmas Day in 2016.  He was found by, Fadi Fawaz, rumored to be his partner, who is now seemingly going to be kicked out of the star’s home.  The singer of such hits as “Careless Whisper”, “Father Figure” and “Faith” was found passed away in bed by Fawaz that morning.  Fawaz has now been summarily cut-off from the singer’s over 100-million-dollar estate.  According to multiple accounts, Fawaz is facing hostility from Michael’s family that is claiming there is no entitlement to any part of his estate and that he was not truly George’s partner.

As recently as July 10, 2017, Mr. Fawaz tweeted that he does not have enough money to buy milk and water.  He also stated he couldn’t afford to buy him a flower to put next to his grave or light him la (sic) candle on his birthday.

George’s estate has yet to be sorted out and it is rumored that he has left his fortune to be divided equally between his sisters.  The current monetary crisis Fawaz is encountering demonstrates the absolute necessity of having an updated will and estate plan to provide for your partners in life.george michael

It is rumored that Fawaz and Michael had a verbal agreement that Fadi could stay in the star’s London townhouse, estimated to be worth 5 million pounds, following his death.  Fawaz has been residing in the house ever since and it is possible that George’s sisters may institute eviction proceedings to obtain their rights under the will.

Specifically, Fawaz believes that he had an agreement with George Michael to use the property for the foreseeable future.  This apparently was based on a conversation, not a written agreement.  Only a written agreement would be recognized as providing rights to use the property; a verbal promise is not binding upon his estate.

Had Michael planned for Fawaz to inherit or occupy the home following his death, he could have spelled it out in a trust document or written directive.  Obviously, Michael needed more than mere “faith” that his promise to Fawaz would be adhered to by his heirs.

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Who will look after your children?

According to a recent New York Times article, fewer than half of American adults (42 percent) have a will.  This figure was quoted according to a recent survey published on Caring.com, a website that offers resources for older Americans and their caregivers.

The most common excuse given for not having a will  was, “I just haven’t gotten around to it.”  Obviously, no one likes to think about dying, but 36% of survey participants with minor children have failed to name a guardian for their children in case of their death.  The New York Times article further stated “Most people run from, and don’t want to think about, their own death,” quoting a clinical psychologist, Arthur Kovacs.

Click here to read the entire article: NYT article

Having a will is important to ensure that your money and belongings are distributed according to your wishes after you die.  If you die without a will, your estate will be settled in accordance with state law.  See my post from last week to see what is happening to Prince’s Estate! Superstar Prince- Super Battle over his Estate

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Superstar Prince- Super Battle over his Estate

A Minnesota Judge rules that six siblings are the heirs to Prince’s Fortune

The music superstar Prince did not have a will!  A judge just ruled that his six siblings are heirs to his fortune, but many more people are claiming to be heirs to the legend’s over 25 million-dollar estate.  Prince’s assets will not be distributed to his heirs without a formal court order. If an appellate court rules that rejected claimants could possibly have a claim, than more heirs may be found. 

A judge has also recently blocked the planned release of a new Prince six-song EP entitled “Deliverance” which had been scheduled to be released on the first anniversary of Prince’s death, but is now on perpetual hold until the estate can be settled.

So what happens now? We will have to wait to see who will obtain the fortune; and the world will have to wait until we can hear new music from the superstar who passed away last year.  Lesson learned:  We may not all have Prince’s fortune, but everyone must have a will.  Even the most modest estates must have an estate plan; or a family may have to deal with a protracted legal battle just to see who the heirs will be.

Here is the link to the original Reuters article regarding Prince’s six siblings from May 20, 2017:  Six Siblings designated Prince’s Heirs

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The Case Against Do-It-Yourself Wills

Why do I need to hire an attorney to prepare my will?

DIY wills are a dime a dozen in these days but can be a huge mistake costing your family and loved ones countless years in court, unnecessary taxes and legal fees.  Many DIY wills are not executed properly (with correct notarization and number of witnesses) or something is mistakenly omitted- completely invalidating your will.

Simply put, I could attempt to install a sliding glass door myself if I had the tools, the exact dimensions, and directions.  But, if I want the door to actually slide open, so my family could walk through without injury, I would need to hire someone with actual expertise.

I have provided a link to a great article I found from Forbes.com that explains the pitfalls of relying on DIY legal documents, particularly when more complicated estate planning is required.  The Forbes article provides a stunning example of the problems in failing to work with a professional just to save a few bucks:

“a father was estranged from one of his children and wanted to disinherit him. Dad bought DIY will software from a big-box store and, following the prompts, listed his assets, but omitted some important ones: small numbers of shares of various phone company stocks that he had bought many years earlier. Those shares, which probably once seemed like tiddlywinks, had burgeoned in value because of mergers and stock splits and were worth more than $1.5 million, comprising most of Dad’s estate, by the time he died.

Unfortunately, the DIY will did not include what’s called a residuary clause–indicating how to distribute what is left after estate expenses, creditors and taxes have been paid and gifts of specific items or sums of money have been satisfied. So guess what happened? The stocks passed according to the law of intestacy, and the son, who the father wanted to disinherit, walked away with almost $400,000. To make matters worse, he had a substance abuse problem and blew through the money in less than a year…”

To view the article in its entirety, please click here:  Forbes Article

And then call me to schedule an appointment to discuss your needs!