This week, nearly eight months after
But his wife was given their home and its contents, where the tuxedo presumably hung. She has claimed in court papers that someone took personal items from that home, where
For most families, a desire for personal effects — a father's watch, a necklace, a set of earrings a mother wore — is less about what they are worth and more about their sentimental value. In the case of
But trust and estate lawyers said that this case, if stripped of its
''I've sent three sons to very expensive
In that case, not only could the stepmother not get her deceased husband's stuff, she could not get her own possessions, either.
''Most estate plans tend to focus on the big-ticket items: the house, the bank accounts, the investments,'' said
In the Williams case,
Such trusts, though, are normally used for assets that generate income, which goes to the surviving spouse, while preserving the principal for the children. Putting a house in such a trust could backfire, at least if the purpose was to give the house, not its value, to the children later on.</p>
''The spouse has the right to demand that the principal is income-producing, so she could have the trust sell it,'' said
A simpler but more emotional solution is to make a list of the items that you want people to have, but then give that list to the executor as a letter that is not part of the estate plan. That way, if the estate is audited, the I.R.S. will not see the letter and ask for items that are on the list but no longer around.
''You don't want a client to come in every four or five months to make changes to the specific property,''
So he is giving her a multimillion-dollar apartment in
Yet knowing how values can shift, he has tried to ensure that his children do not get inadvertently cut out. ''What happens if there is a catastrophic event?''
If there is one rule of thumb, it is that the more specific, the better.
What sets off family feuds is often small things. ''If it's a watch, is that going to change any of their lives? No,''
In the Williams case, one catalyst seems to be his widow's use of the term ''knickknacks'' in referring to items like comic books and theater masks that he amassed over the years. His children contend that those items fueled
Such back and forth is not confined to blended families. Plenty of siblings do not get along, and that can lead to fights over things that cannot be as neatly divided as money or stocks.
''The kids fight over Persian rugs or one painting,''
He added, ''People don't spend any time on personal property. They don't think they need to set up a system of allocating it or saying it's up to the executor.''
But few families, blended or not, imagine how nasty things will get — despite ample evidence.
What ensued were months of shifting items between columns on a spreadsheet. ''In that kind of situation, what the executor struggled with was the disposition of the tangibles, which were to be divided equally,'' she said. ''What does equally mean? It's not the value of the pieces but the sentimental attachment.''
To this day, she can't remember who got the silver and the teapot, just that the settlement dragged on far longer than any parent would want.
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