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Although it has now been a few years in our house, I remember when are kids were toddlers. You remember the “It’s mine” stage – If it’s yours, it’s mine; if I think it’s mine, it’s mine; and if I want it, it’s mine. It’s amazing how rapidly mature adults can revert back to this stage in their lives after the death of a parent. It’s my ring. It’s my tool. It’s my painting. At this time, many adult children can forget all that you have taught them about sharing and caring. Usually, children are not arguing about the item itself, but about the sentimental value attached to the item.

It happens more often than you think, and it happens even in large estates. The last parent passes away, and the children are fighting over one of mom’s rings or over dad’s tools. With lots of emotion, children will sometimes spend thousands of dollars fighting in court about items that have sentimental value, but not much monetary value. Obviously, selling these items is not an option, because everyone wants to keep them in the family.  What can be done?

What Can I Do?

First, if you are older, I recommend talking with your children now to see if there are any tangible personal property items that they would like to have after you are gone. In addition, especially as we enter this season of giving, one of the best gifts that you can give your family is the gift of a will or trust that clarifies what your wishes are after you pass away. An important part of your will is a tangible personal property list describing how you would like certain special items to be distributed. As with a well-drafted will or trust, a tangible personal property list can help to reduce or eliminate family disputes after you are gone.

Arizona law provides that a will may refer to a written list of tangible personal property items. The list must either be in the person’s handwriting or signed by the person to be effective, and it must describe the items with reasonable specificity. The list can only contain tangible personal property items, such as jewelry, tools, art, furniture, silver, and other similar items, and it cannot contain money, bank or investment accounts, or real estate. The personal property list may be prepared before or after the execution of the will, and it does not have the same execution requirements as a will.

Some people get overwhelmed by the thought of listing out all of their tangible personal property items. I tell my clients that you do not need to include every fork and spoon on the list – only those items that are of special value to you and your family. There is generally a section of the will or the trust that addresses what happens to all of the other tangible personal property items that are not included on this list. In addition, items that are extremely valuable monetarily should be specifically included in your will or trust.

Give Your Family the Gift of Peace of Mind . . .

At this time of year, one of the best gifts that you can give your family is the gift of a properly drafted will or trust, with a tangible personal property list as part of it, so that those special family items can be passed on to the people that you love and so that family disputes can be minimized or avoided altogether. You have spent a lifetime teaching your children, providing for their needs, and instructing them in all aspects of their lives. Now is the time to prepare a plan for them that will give them a peaceful way to administer your estate. Even if you believe that your children would never argue about such items, wouldn’t you rather have them focusing on you and your legacy after your passing, rather than worrying about the distribution of these items? Leave them a lasting legacy of love!

One Final Note About Year-End Tax Credits

Remember that there are some incredible tax credits available to Arizona residents that allow you to redirect your Arizona tax dollars, including the following:

1)                  Private School Tax Credit (up to $517 – single/ $1,034 – married);

2)                  Public School Tax Credit (up to $200 – single/ $400 – married); and

3)                  Working Poor Tax Credit (up to $200 – single/$400 – married).

In addition, if these payments are made in 2013, you can not only get the Arizona tax credit, but your donation may also be tax-deductible on your state and federal income tax returns.  One of my favorite charities is the St. Vincent de Paul Society because of all of the great work that they do here in our community.  With this tax credit, my wife and I can redirect up to $400 to this great organization to help the poor in our community.

Call me today – 602.277.7000

John Even

Our firm has helped hundreds of families just like yours handle a wide variety of estate planning, probate, and trust administration issues.  In particular, we have the experience in handling all different kinds of estate planning, probate, trust administration, guardianship, and conservatorship matters.  When families are not getting along, we can also help you to handle any disputes and litigation related to these types of matters as well.  Please give me a call, so that I can help you work through these difficult issues with confidence.

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