The most contentious issue when distributing an estate is not always the money, according to Elaine Lightfoot, our Head of Private Client.
I frequently become embroiled in family discussions and, regrettably, family fall-outs, regarding the distribution of personal belongings (chattels).
However, such fallouts can often be avoided entirely with good planning and advice when making a will, although, of course, not all estates I act on have the benefit of a professionally-drawn will.
Chattels can be dealt with in a number of ways. Frequently clients will state that they have no concerns about such items or that they have nothing of any real value. However, I am always quick to point out that it is often sentimental value that causes the issue, with family members feuding over an item that has specific memories yet no monetary value.
If a client wishes particular items to be left to a certain beneficiary or beneficiaries, then such items should be included in their will – this then leaves the Executors with a legal obligation to pass the item to the stated beneficiary. However, this is an inflexible approach and often does not fit for people making wills at a younger age who will then be faced with additional costs to change their wills in the future if they change their instructions or have further items of jewellery or further family members, such as grandchildren, to whom they wish certain personal belonging to be left.
One more flexible option is for reference to be made in a will to a separate list of chattels asking the Executors to follow these wishes. This allows flexibility for the list to be updated over the course of time as and when the position changes (new relatives, new items or even to remove an item previously assigned to a person). You are then placing your trust in your Executors to carry out such wishes and, of course, you should only ever appoint Executors you trust!
It is not surprising that on many occasions people have not considered this point before discussing it with me and initially some seem convinced that they have no necessity for such inclusion in their will. However, once items of sentimental worth are brought into play, people frequently feel differently. This can help substantially in reducing costs eroding the value of the items after death.