Personal Non-Titled Property and Estate Planning
What is Non-Titled Property?
In estate planning, often we often focus on large, high-value items, such as houses, vehicles, and accounts. However, it is essential that you also consider what will happen with your non-titled property, or personal belongings that don’t have legal documents (such as titles) that specify who officially owns them.
Why does Non-Titled Property Matter?
In every family, the personal belongings that have accumulated over a lifetime have deep emotional, nostalgic, and financial value. Some items you own, such as letters and journals, can be important for family history. Others may reflect tender memories, such as books read to your children or family jewelry. Some items may have high financial value or reflect the work of a lifetime, like a coin collection or hand-made items.
Bereavement is always difficult for families, but division of these personal effects can sometimes have devastating consequences. Lacking clear instructions, families can descend into arguing and contention as they attempt to preserve their memories of their loved one. Sentimental value cannot be quantified, but has deep emotional connotations that can cause strife if not handled delicately.
If you had, for example, a beautiful, worn quilt that your mother made, which was always on the couch in your home, it may not mean anything to an appraiser, but could mean the world to your children. They might remember curling up beneath it when ill, or making forts out of it as children. If each one of them wants to keep the quilt to cherish those memories, you may inadvertently put them an emotionally difficult position if you are not clear with your wishes.
How Can We Divide Non-Titled Property?
Even though this may be a difficult first step, it is important that you discuss these things with your family. You may not realize which of your personal items mean the most to various people. This may feel morbid, but can be a loving, supportive experience as you realize what your family remembers and cherishes about your life.
It is also possible that you may want to gift certain items to individuals before it becomes an estate matter. Giving items as gifts gives you the chance to talk about your memories and share experiences. It can also minimize estate difficulties and streamline the process later.
For the remainder of your items, I strongly encourage that you write out your wishes in a clear, dated letter. This letter can be kept with your estate planning materials and gives your family guidance on how you want your non-titled property distributed.
With thoughtful consideration you can ease potential future difficulties with your family, and make sure that your cherished possessions are distributed according to your wishes.