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What is a fair way to distribute the personal property of the deceased?

Many issues arise concerning how to distribute the personal property of the deceased. By personal property, I am describing those things that are generally found around the home of the deceased, and, more often than not, have a sentimental value which exceeds the monetary value of the items. Very rarely does the value of the personal property of the deceased equal more than a few thousand dollars. However, personal property is very important to the heirs because of the sentimental value attached to certain things by children of the deceased.

Children especially grow attached to personal property around their parents’ home. Distribution of the deceased person’s personal property is the cause of more disputes than the distribution of money which can easily be equalized. Each heir has her own value she places on items that are important to her. This value almost always exceeds the fair market value of the item. If two or more heirs want the same item, a conflict arises that is difficult to resolve.

The simplest way for personal property to be distributed, especially when there are competing claims for the same property, is to devise a simple point system for the heirs to participate in. Using this method, each heir is allotted 100 points. The heir then uses his 100 points to bid for items in the home. A Personal Representative needs to prepare a list of all personal property owned by the deceased, and for which there is some interest by at least one heir. Those items for which no one has an interest should be discarded either to other family members, charity, or a dumpster. Once all of the heirs agree that the list of items prepared by the Personal Representative includes all items for which there is an interest, the Personal Representative will provide the complete list to each heir. This provides each person with the ability to bid for the item(s) she wants while allowing the other heirs the same opportunity.

Each heir writes in a bid next to each item he wants, with the maximum bid for any item being 100 points, and the minimum bid being 1 point. The heir who bids the most points for an item will be the owner of that item. Remember that each heir only has a total of 100 points to bid for all of the items that she wants.  After completing the form, the heir returns the form to the Personal Representative at some predetermined time. If the Personal Representative is also an heir, then some disinterested person will be the one to receive all of the forms. The person designated to receive the forms then opens all of the bids at the appointed time and awards property based upon the highest number of points that an heir has bid for an item.

An heir may bid up to 100 points for the items on the list. Each heir’s bids may not exceed a total of 100 points. Assume the list of items that will be bid upon is 200 items long. Further assume that your sister has forever had her eye on a lamp in your mother’s family room. The sister has expressed repeatedly that all she wants is this lamp. Your sister, on her bid form, to ensure that she obtains what she wants, should bid all 100 of her points for the lamp. Naturally, it would take another heir, who wanted the same item, just as badly, to also bid 100 points for the item to equal your sister’s bid. Let’s assume for the moment that only your sister bid 100 points for the lamp. Therefore, when the designated person is compiling the list of property that each person gets, he will place in your sister’s column only that lamp. Now, let’s assume that you have a brother who’s expressed interest in many things, but nothing of high significance. He may well bid one point for 100 items. His strategy is that he counts on all others to bid 5 or 10 or 50 or 100 points, on specific items. His goal is to accumulate 100 items that no one else bids on.

Each person usually has a few items that he feels strongly about, and others that he is noncommittal about. In those situations, a person may well bid 10, 20, 30 points on an item, and lesser amounts on other things. Regardless, the Personal Representative is required to award property to each person on a high-bid basis. Hopefully, very few items have equal bids from the heirs. You will usually find that few, if any, problems ensue. Naturally, after each person has been awarded her property, she is free to trade her items with other heirs as she sees fit.

This method ensures that everyone is treated equally, at least as it relates to items that have little, if any, monetary value. To do this any other way may well result in the heir who might be more financially well off than the others, outbidding everybody for an item and taking sentimental property simply because he has the financial resources to do that. Requiring heirs to buy items certainly enriches and enhances the estate which, at the end of the day, results in each heir receiving a greater monetary inheritance; but many heirs feel left out because they could not afford to buy the items for which they had a sentimental interest.

After the personal property is distributed, usually all that is left are cars, homes, real estate, and cash. All of these items can easily be liquidated into cash and the cash distributed in accordance with the will or with the intestacy laws of your state.


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