Hi, How Can We Help You?

Blog Posts


My husband and I had the most amazing honeymoon in 2000. We went on a 10 day cruise in
French Polynesia. We flew from Los Angeles to Tahiti, where we were immediately taken to the
cruise ship, which at the time was with the Renaissance Cruise Line. The ship had about 750
passengers, and it was adults only. My husband and I love cruising. We love the fact that we are
able to see many sights, without having to rent a car, and we love the incredible food. Our
cruise took us to 5 islands, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raietea, and Huahine.

It was in Bora Bora where we had an unforgettable experience. We were having lunch on the
beach. My husband spotted a “celebrity” couple walking down the beach. I did not see them,
but he insisted that we follow them. He would not tell me who he thought it was. So we quickly
finished our lunch, and headed on the path they took. It led us to the Hotel Bora Bora.
Prior to walking to the main pool and beach area, we were passing some beach front
bungalows which were part of the Hotel. And lo and behold, in a hammock in front of one of
the bungalows sat this couple. I recognized them right away. It was Drew Barrymore and Tom
Green. I remembered that they just started dating. My husband, with our camcorder
underneath his arm, said to me, I’m going to go there and take their photo. I immediately said
“no, you are not!” Of course he did not listen to me, and he proceeded to walk up to them, with
the camcorder turned on by his side. I was mortified. I walked away from him. He said to them,
“hello, I just wanted to see if I can get a photo.” Suddenly a bodyguard appeared, and put his
hand over the camera lens. “Please leave.” And he walked back to me.
We walked to the hotel bar and just stood there. He said that he was able to get some footage,
and I was like, good thing the bodyguard didn’t ask for the tape. As we stood there, we saw
Drew and Tom walk by, and talk to one of the hotel personnel. Shortly thereafter, we were told
to leave the premises.

When we arrived back in the US, I was excited to show the footage to my co-workers. One of
them said, “have you ever thought of sending it to the tabloids?” I said, “no, that would not be
right.” They said, “why not?” Sure enough, I get on the computer, email a few magazines. To
make a long story short, our photo was purchased by US Magazine, who paid $1,200 for it, and
they further passed it along to an Australian magazine, who paid us $500 for it. Crazy! So when I
see all of the paparazzi feverishly waiting and bombarding the celebrities of today, I grin to
myself, “I (actually my husband) was one of them once.”

About the author
Maritess T. Bott, of Bott & Associates, Ltd. is an estate planning attorney in Rolling Meadows,
Illinois, a Northwest suburb of Chicago. She has been an attorney since 1997, and has helped
hundreds of families have peace of mind by protecting their wealth, and preserving their
relationships. She has been a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
since 2003, a nationally recognized organization of attorneys who specialize in estate planning
and probate. If you are interested in more information, you may check out

Read More

Reasons to Update Your Will After a Divorce

Will Lawyer

The last thing you may be thinking about following a divorce is the importance of updating your will. Chances are, your will is one that you created with your ex spouse. Because of this, the decisions you made regarding your estate likely encompass them as well. Your estate has probably changed significantly following your divorce, which is why it’s more important than ever to update your will to reflect the changes in your life.

Your Ex May Stand to Inherit Everything

If you and your ex shared a will, you can either update your will or create a new one altogether. Often all assets are left to the living partner in wills shared by married people. This is a key reason to make changes to your will. Although some people may still choose to include their ex in their will in some way, it’s not likely that you want them to inherit everything you own.

Power of Attorney and Health Care Directives

Power of Attorney and Health Care Directives are two significant aspects to developing a will. If you were to become incapacitated, someone can be appoint to make decisions for you. Power of attorney covers legal and financial decisions, while health care directives appoint someone to make medical decisions. It’s important that when making such changes, you shred or destroy and previous documentation that is outdated.

Guardianship over Your Children

In most cases your ex would assume sole guardianship over the children you shared together if you were to pass away. But, what happens if you believe they are unfit to take on this responsibility? Bypassing your ex may be difficult to do unless there is a substantial history or evidence that supports their inability to parent the child. Writing a letter outlining your concerns that is included with your will may allow the judge to review your concerns. It’s important to be aware that despite your best efforts, it’s highly likely that your ex would be appointed guardianship over the children you share.

Your Loved Ones May be Impacted

Dealing with an outdated will can be a real headache for your loved ones. What if your family is unable to locate your ex? Or your ex is really the last person who should be managing your estate after you die? This may result in a number of problems for your family. During such an emotional time, the last thing they should have to manage is such a contentious and complex situation.

Meeting with an Attorney

Many people may still choose to include their ex in their will in some way, especially if you share children together. Although this may be the case, many do not want an ex spouse appointed as the executor of the estate or given power of attorney in the event you are incapacitated. Following a divorce, it may be in your best interest to meet with an attorney to create a new will. They can help you identify new beneficiaries, ensure that all of your accounts have been updated, and identify a new executor. An attorney can make sure that nothing is left out. After a divorce, your will is probably the last thing on your mind, but by diligently tackling this task, you can ensure that complications do not arise for loved ones if you were to pass.

It can be a long time before a divorce is finally resolved, because of this, there are many loose ends that need to be sorted out. As a result, it’s not uncommon for people to forget that their will needs to be updated. Many people think they have plenty of time to make the necessary changes to their will. Unfortunately, it’s possible for the unexpected to occur. By failing to update your will, you risk your ex having a significant amount of power in the event you pass away or are incapacitated. Contact a wills lawyer Ridgefield, CT relies on who can help you review and update your will following a divorce.



Thank you to our friends and contributors at Sweeney Legal for their insight into estate planning, wills, and divorce.

Read More

Tips for Writing Your Estate Plan to Prevent Trust Litigation

Estate Planning Lawyer

When a person sits down to start writing his or her estate plan, rarely do they imagine that their trust will go through litigation. Despite doing their very best to prevent their trust from being disputed in court, it can happen. After the creator of the trust passes away, a family member or beneficiary may become disgruntled no matter what. Here in the article below, we have listed a few tips to consider to help lessen the chances of your trust being contested in court.

Choose a Responsible Successor Trustee

If a beneficiary feels that your appointed successor trustee is not upholding his or her duties, a lawsuit may be filed. The person you choose as the successor trustee does not have to be a whiz at legalities, but they should have common sense and be able to take on such a crucial role. Before finalizing your estate plan documents, ask your proposed successor trustee if they are comfortable taking on this role after your passing. You may even want to choose a secondary successor trustee, just in case the first is not able to fulfill the position.

Communicate with Beneficiaries

Be open and honest with your beneficiaries. In most cases, the creator of an estate plan and trust chooses beneficiaries that are close family members, best friends, charitable organizations or mentors. Perhaps you want to have a conversation with your beneficiaries about what they can expect to receive after you have passed on. While it may be an uncomfortable thing to converse about, it can help prevent someone you care about being surprised later on. If a loved one feels they are not receiving the part of your legacy that means the most to them, you can have this conversation now instead of your trust going through litigation when you are no longer here.

Make Trust Instructions Clear

If the wishes you write down in your trust are not clear and concise, your assets may become disputed in court between beneficiaries. If your trust instructions are broad, your successor trustee and loved ones may have very different interpretations of what these statements mean. Make your instructions so straightforward that it leaves little room for potential negotiation. Remember, the wishes you write in your trust are to be carried out by your successor trustee after death. These are some of the very last words you may leave behind for your most cherished loved ones. During their time of grief, the last thing they may want to do is deal with a legal proceeding on top of the anguish.

When in Doubt, Hire an Attorney

For those who want a little extra help editing the final draft of their estate plan and trust, can meet with a trust attorney Sacramento, CA relies on for assistance. It is not uncommon for people to talk with a legal professional who knows about estate planning before finalizing these hugely impactful documents. Do not take this task of establishing your estate plan lightly, use as much time and as many drafts as you need to make it just right.



Thank you to our friends and contributors at Yee Law Group for their insight into estate planning and trusts.

Read More


Burt Reynolds, the legendary actor, sadly died in September 2018, at the age of 82. According
to his Last Will and Testament, which was reportedly obtained by TMZ in a People Magazine
article, he left his only son out of his Will. The actual language was “I intentionally omit him
from this, my Last Will and Testament, as I have provided for him during my lifetime in my
Declaration of Trust.”

I always love how these gossip magazines find a copy of the deceased celebrity’s Will, and then
start making headlines “His Only son Out of His Will…” which of course sounds terrible. First of
all, TMZ was only able to get a copy of the Will because his family filed the Will in the county of
his residence. In Illinois, there is a law that states an original Will must be filed within 30 days of
death. I imagine there is a similar law in Burt’s State of residence. Secondly, his son’s
inheritance is quietly distributed via a Trust. The whole world does not need to know how his
inheritance is being given to him.

I am so pleased to see that Burt did a fantastic thing! He left his family a plan with PRIVACY. He
signed what is considered a “Pour Over Will” which generally goes together with a Living Trust.
The only document that needs to be filed with the county is the Will. The Will has very limited
language. As stated by the People article, his assets are distributed via his Trust, which is a
private document. Nobody gets to see that document except for the family, and certain

During our lives, we are all fairly private. We do not tell people what we make, how much we
have in savings, what we have on our tax returns and who we give gifts to. Why should that
information be public upon our death? Some people tell me…who cares, I’ll be dead. And I
come back with, “well, if you care about your beneficiaries, then you should care about
whether their private information will be made available to the public.” In the probate court
documents, we are required to report the size of the estate AND the names and addresses of all
of the beneficiaries. So now your children or other beneficiaries are exposed to people who
may take advantage of them because they may be getting an inheritance.

The moral of the story is….PRIVATE IS BETTER THAN PUBLIC. If you care about how your hard-earned
assets will go to your family, friends and charities, GET YOUR ESTATE PLAN DONE NOW,
so they can also enjoy the privacy that Burt Reynold’s family now have.

About the author
Maritess T. Bott, of Bott & Associates, Ltd. is an estate planning attorney in Rolling Meadows,
Illinois, a Northwest suburb of Chicago. She has been an attorney since 1997, and has helped
hundreds of families have peace of mind by protecting their wealth, and preserving their
relationships. She has been a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
since 2003, a nationally recognized organization of attorneys who specialize in estate planning
and probate. If you are interested in more information, you may check out

Read More


Clients often have the desire to rule from the grave. Although this seems like such a negative
thing, I actually think of it as a positive thing. My background as an immigrant family, coming to
the United States in the mid-70s, with nothing, and being able to make our “American Dream”
come true, makes me very sensitive to the idea of preserving your hard-earned wealth. We
spend hours of back-breaking, labor-intensive, vacation-sacrificing, time in our jobs to earn
every penny in our accounts. We should be able to determine how such money will be used by
our children and beneficiaries.

They say the average time a person who receives an inheritance actually keeps the money is 18
months. What? 18 months? You mean the 40 years it took Mom and Dad to earn that money,
only took their son “Johnny” 18 months to use by buying a Maserati, going on 5 extravagant
vacations, buying his dream house, and giving various “friends” some gifts. You see, Johnny has
never had any money saved up. He lives paycheck to paycheck, and was ill equipped to handle
the inheritance Mom and Dad left him. You hear many stories of lottery winners who go
bankrupt soon after they receive their lump sum winnings. When you don’t know how to
handle money, you tend to spend it like it’s never going to run out.
Regardless of whether your children or beneficiaries are “good” with money, temptation always
seems to take over. Furthermore, you don’t know what types of situations the beneficiaries are
in at the time they receive the inheritance. What if he/she is in the middle of a divorce, or has
filed for bankruptcy? Will some of that money be inadvertently be given to an ex-spouse or to
creditors? There are many reasons why “ruling from the grave” or keeping the inheritance “in
trust” is a good idea. You probably worked very hard to have what you have. Let’s make sure
the next generation continues to protect it.

About the author
Maritess T. Bott, of Bott & Associates, Ltd. is an estate planning attorney in Rolling Meadows,
Illinois, a Northwest suburb of Chicago. She has been an attorney since 1997, and has helped
hundreds of families have peace of mind by protecting their wealth, and preserving their
relationships. She has been a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
since 2003, a nationally recognized organization of attorneys who specialize in estate planning
and probate. If you are interested in more information, you may check out

Read More


I recently watched the movie “All the Money in the World.” It was great. It is true story of the
grandson of John Paul Getty, Sr. being kidnapped for ransom, and the events that occurred to
set his grandson free. In 1957, Fortune Magazine named John Paul Getty, Sr. as the richest man
in the world, worth approximately $1.2B (approximately $25.8B in today’s dollars). He founded
the Getty Oil Company. Mr. Getty was an avid collector of all things rare, paintings, historical
artifacts, and antiques. His collection formed the basis of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los
Angeles, and over $661M of his estate was left to the museum after his death. He established
the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1952. The trust is the world’s wealthiest art institution, and operates
the many museums in his name. He died in 1976, leaving an amazing legacy of art for people to
admire for generations to come.

When a movie involves people who amassed fortunes, and then upon death, leaving a long
lasting legacy, my interest is always immediately piqued. I am a big fan of the amazing benefits
of capitalism in the United States being turned into long lasting altruistic impact upon a
person’s death. I think about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. He and his wife Joan were
very charitable. Ray died in 1984 and his entire estate went to Joan. Joan died in 2003, and
prior to her death, she spent a lot of time meeting with various large charitable organizations.
She was deciding the legacy she and Ray were going to leave behind. Joan chose the Salvation
Army to be the recipient of the majority of her fortune. It was the largest donation the
organization ever received, $1.5 billion dollars. Joan specifically wanted to have 26 Kroc Centers
to be built in underserved communities to provide opportunity, education, recreation and
inspiration for such communities. The programs must include education, fitness, arts and
worship, according to Joan’s instructions. In 2016, the Ray and Joan Kroc Center was opened in
the South Side of Chicago. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to volunteer there in
its opening year, and was amazed by how much it offers. The Kroc Centers are all around the
country and they provide millions of children and families a place to learn and grow, and stay
safe. In my opinion, that is the best way you leave a legacy.

About the author
Maritess T. Bott, of Bott & Associates, Ltd. is an estate planning attorney in Rolling Meadows,
Illinois, a Northwest suburb of Chicago. She has been an attorney since 1997, and has helped
hundreds of families have peace of mind by protecting their wealth, and preserving their
relationships. She has been a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
since 2003, a nationally recognized organization of attorneys who specialize in estate planning
and probate. If you are interested in more information, you may check out

Read More

Shining the Light on Mental Illness

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness.  That’s about 43.8 million people, or around 18.5% of our country.  May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  It is a time to demystify some of the common misconceptions about various health issues.  In an article written by Quinten Plummer for Tech Times, he states that The Mental Health America organization has used the national attention to spark a conversation about how people whose mental illness is addressed before Stage 4 can recover quickly.

This illness is certainly not age-based, nor culture-based.  Years ago, I had represented a mother whose 18 year old son, “John”, for the most part, grew up “normal”.  Then one day he was experimenting with his friends with various substances to get “high”.  For some reason, his body and mind reacted in such an extraordinary way.  John started seeing things, hearing things and just acting so unusual.  His mom could not understand what was happening.  She took him to a psychiatrist, and John was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, manic with psychosis and paranoid episodes.  Mom was so distraught.  He would refuse medication, wander in the streets in the middle of the night, and be violent to the rest of the family.  Since he reached the age of majority, his mom could not talk to his doctors, and make decision on his behalf.  We opened up a Guardianship proceeding, and after several months, was able to get Mom appointed as John’s guardian.  When I met John in court, he appeared to be a typical 18 year old boy.  It wasn’t until the Judge started asking him some questions that you notice he was suffering from a mental illness.

On the other side of the spectrum, I represented a 72 year old business owner, “Nick”, in the later stages of dementia.  His son noticed that he was starting to do odd things, like leaving the stove on for a long period of time, or drive to the store, but wind up in a completely different neighborhood.  It was then that the son moved him into a Senior living facility.  Within a month of moving in, Nick met his next door neighbor, “Jane”, who befriended him.  They ate meals together, hung out together, and Nick seemed to enjoy the attention.  Then a few months later, Jane asked the facility to check into a 2 bedroom apartment for the two of them, because she said they were soon to be married.  It wasn’t long before Nick’s son saw the red flags, and started a Guardianship proceeding to protect his father.  I represented Nick and enjoyed learning about how he started his business years ago and what it has become today.  Although his short term memory was not very sharp, he remembers clearly details from his life long ago.  Needless to say it was a long court process and eventually Nick’s son became his guardian.  Interestingly enough, Jane moved out a month later.

I share these stories hopefully to encourage people to start noticing family and friends around them.  Anyone may seem “normal” at first, and yet, he or she may be suffering from a mental illness.  They are very susceptible to financial abuse, and perhaps physical abuse.  If we can keep an eye on our loved ones and our neighbors, have them seek help, perhaps they can recover with the right medical attention.

Read More

More Adult Children Living With Their Parents

53.6% of 25 year olds in Illinois currently live with their parents.  To give you some perspective, in 1999, only 25% of all 25 year olds lived with their parents.  How did we go from 25% to 53.6% so quickly?

In my practice, I often counsel my clients about how to leave their assets to their children.  Many of my clients have adult children living in their homes, some of the “children” being in their 30s and 40s.  This often poses a problem as to what would happen if both parents die…would the children living there automatically receive their residence?  How would the other children receive an equal share?  Can the children afford the real estate taxes, utilities and upkeep?  Often we find that the children who are not living in the residence have some resentment towards the siblings because they essentially are getting “free rent” for many years just because they are not required to pay anything to the parents.  I can understand that parents want to keep the peace, provide for their children at all cost, and hope that the kids will all get along when they are gone. But unfortunately if there are no instructions for the children to follow under a Will and/or Trust, the likelihood is that the family will squabble over the division of the residence and assets.

So why the increase in adult children living at home? In the article by Tyler Durden found here: http://tinyurl.com/qh7698x he explains some of the reasons,

  1. Labor Market – It appears to be a tough job market for young adults.  Perhaps it’s because older adults are working longer, there just aren’t enough jobs.  I recently learned from one of my clients (who is a Canadian citizen) that in Canada, companies aren’t allowed to hire individuals who are 65 and older.  That is the mandatory retirement age.  This helps to provide jobs for the younger adults. To me, this doesn’t seem to be a bad idea.
  2. Housing Market – The recovery of the housing market seems to be driving up the rental rates.  It appears to be more difficult for a young adult with a starting salary to even rent an apartment, let along purchase a first home.
  3. Student Debt – This is definitely a huge factor in young adults living at home.  Many parents tell their children to go to college, get a degree, and then you’ll get a job.  But if the children are saddled with hundreds of thousands of student loans, it becomes more practical to stay home before buying a home or renting.

Mr. Durden ends his article with “for all of the above you can thank, who else, the Fed for blowing the biggest debt-funded asset bubble in history”.  Hopefully in the near future, our economy will continue to get stronger, our young adults will get good paying jobs, and move out of their parents’ basements.  In the meantime, get your estate plan in place with the right provisions to address any adult child living in your home.

Read More

Things Your Boss Doesn’t Tell You

Yesterday, April 12, 2016, was EQUAL PAY DAY.  Woohoo!  For those who may not know what this means, it’s the day that a woman would have to work up to beginning on January 1st of the previous year, to make the same amount as a man working only for that same previous year.  In other words, if my husband and I were working in the same position, in the same field, with similar experience levels, I’d have to work an additional 3 months and 12 days just to get paid the same as him.  Does that seem fair?  Absolutely not.

As Patricia Arquette mentioned in her article, in the Washington Post, “Yes, it’s about the paycheck.  But it’s also about the principle of fairness.  Women earn only 79 percent of what men make in comparable jobs.”  One of my favorite movies last year was “Boyhood.”  Ms. Arquette earned an Academy Award for her performance.  More importantly, it was her ability to shed light on this very issue.  She was a single mom in the movie with two children.  Her struggles were very real. Her effort was relatable to so many mothers and women in our country.  I’ve talked to countless women who choose to stay in their marriage for financial reasons, even though they would have filed for a divorce years before.

In my practice, this issue is very apparent when I am counseling single women who have already retired.  So many women are not receiving much from social security, partly because of the wage gap or perhaps a break from the workforce to raise their children. They worry about how they can take care of themselves in the event of long term care needs.  It’s one thing to not make as much during the working years, but the compound effect of that gap exponentially affects women as they get older.

In Patricia’s article, it stated that “Salesforce chairman and CEO Marc Benioff reviewed his 17,000 employees’ salaries and made $3 million in adjustments to equalize gender pay disparities.”  Wow.  Yes, it’s great that he chose to do this, but $3M?!  That is how much women in his company were not making compared to men in just one year?  I applaud Marc’s decision, and hope he sparks a domino effect for other companies to follow his actions.

Last year, I watched a TED talk by Former President, Jimmy Carter. As we all know, he has made such an amazing impact after his presidency for his humanitarian efforts.  His talk was entitled “Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse.”  EVERYONE should watch this: http://tinyurl.com/o2vc2l5

Although it does not necessarily discuss gender pay equality, this talk really opened my eyes to know that it’s not just about the paycheck.  We would all be better off if we can justify the right and the wrong of the mistreatment of women and girls. In so many parts of the world, both developed and developing.

#blogger #genderequality

Read More


One of the growing types of “crimes” that often goes unnoticed is elder abuse/fraud.  If you have a family member, a family friend, or anyone you know that is older, perhaps lives alone, single and especially if he/she does not have any children, please take the time to check in on them every so often.  They are often the more vulnerable to being victims of this crime.  I recently was at a meeting with a client and her financial advisor.  The advisor told us the story of another client who is elderly and whose caregiver was taking financial advantage of her.  The caregiver was continuing to request more and more additional “funds” from the client. The advisor asked to see her estate planning documents that were 20 years old, and the client named two similarly aged people to act on her behalf, and who were not in the position to take care of her financial and medical decisions.  The advisor is now working to make sure her client is protected from further financial influence and abuse.

I have also encountered some of these types of stories with my own clients.  For example:

   (1)   73 year old business man (“Tom”) was diagnosed with dementia for two years.  He lived on his own during the two years, but his son was starting to get phone calls about Tom wandering the neighborhood.  His son put Tom in independent living at a large residential home for seniors with various types of care.  Within a month of moving in, his next door neighbor, a single woman (“Jane”), was befriending him.  Jane continued to spend a lot of time with him.  After three months, Tom called his son and said that he wants to marry Jane and get a two bedroom place for them to live in together.  Jane went to the effort of writing a letter to the senior living facility stating that she and Tom were getting married and want to look at other 2 bedroom units.  The facility administrator called the son and the red flags were up.  Son eventually started a court process called a guardianship to take over Tom’s affairs.  I represented Tom, who is a very lovely man.  He is an immigrant who came to America and started a company that still exists today.  He has a decent amount of assets.  Jane on the other hand, did not have much money.  At the end of the long guardianship process, son became the guardian, and three months later, Tom and Jane “broke up” and she moved out.  I wonder why.

   (2)   Another client of mine is “Jake”.  He and his wife, “Carol,” updated their estate plan with me in 2005.  Unfortunately, Carol died in 2007.  In 2011, one of their sons (“Joe”), contacted me to let me know that Jake met a woman in the grocery store.   Joe said that this woman just started talking to Jake and all of a sudden within a week, she is over at his house with a bag of groceries wanting to make dinner for him.  This would have not been a big deal, however, Jake at the time was age 87, and this woman was age 52.  So I called Jake to just check in, see how he was doing.  He told me about the woman and said she was very nice.  He seemed to really enjoy the attention.  Once again the facts were similar to the first story in that Jake has a sizeable estate, and the woman was a single mom with a minimal size estate.  I recently met with Joe and he told me that the relationship went “sour” after a few months, and she is no longer in the picture.  Luckily, Jake was of sound mind and was able to see through her intentions.

As much as I am a romantic at heart and would love to see my clients meet nice people and enjoy the companionship, I am also very protective over my clients so that the intentions of any new relationship is truly for love, and not for finances.

Read More


I recently read an article about Robin Williams’ estate and how the personal property like his suspenders from the “Mork and Mindy” TV show or the Oscar from the movie “Good Will Hunting” will be distributed.  Many times it is the assets with little to no value in the marketplace, but with a tremendous emotional value to the family members that end up being fought about.  I remember one family fought over the gravy bowl because all of the children had such fond memories of mom’s cooking and that bowl being passed around at every big family dinner.  It is not uncommon for me to hear about one family member going to the decedent’s house even before the funeral occurs, and grabbing items way before everyone else.

Although we can never predict what your family will really fight about, we can at least do some preventative measures.  Here are some examples of what some of my clients have done:

( 1)   Ask!  Some clients ask their children what are the things in the house that have sentimental value to them.  Then you can see if there are any items that more than one child wants, and you can designate who you want it to go to.

( 2)   Sticker System – Some clients ask their children to take colored sticker and put it under any item that they would like.  Yes, it’s possible to for the kids to peel off stickers of their siblings but hopefully everyone will play by the rules.

( 3)   Card System – Some clients put together a strategy in their estate planning documents of how the personal property will be distributed.  They may have a deck of cards, and each person would choose one.  They would then just go in order and pick things out one by one until they have narrowed it down to things to put up for sale or to donate.

( 4)   Estate Planning Letter – We always encourage clients to prepare a letter that may have some instructions on how best to distribute or sell personal property.  This includes a list that is separate from the Will or Living Trust, but is incorporated in such documents to be honored upon your death.  This list of who to give what items to can be changed as often as you want, especially since we accumulate and get rid of assets throughout our lifetime. The instructions should also include the details of the assets and how best to sell them. For instance if you have a rare set of books, coins, china, stamps or any other collection, your family may just sell them in a garage sale, or on craigslist for far less than their true value.

In any event, estate planning is not just about the big stuff – your house, your retirement accounts, your savings and your cars.  It’s also about the “little” stuff that has far greater sentimental value to your family.  The more you plan, hopefully, the less conflict for your family members, and the higher likelihood that they can remain on good terms and continue to see each other during the holidays.

Read More