How to Dispose of “Stuff”

Even wealthy clients are often most concerned about the possessions which they have around them. They may have financial accounts with lots of zeros, yet they are most concerned about the things which they have collected or been given over the years. At first glance, this may not make much sense because the items may not be of great financial value. But people may have developed great emotional attachment to these items. In fact, there is a psychology of stuff and the attachment people have to their stuff. (In the extreme, it manifests as hoarding.)

Perhaps it’s the baseball card collection which he started when he was six years old. Perhaps it’s the stamp collection her father started when he was a boy. Perhaps it’s the coin collection she started when she was little when her grandmother gave her a silver dollar for Christmas. Perhaps it’s the drawings she did while recovering from a stroke. Some of these items might have financial value while others might have only emotional value.

What’s the best way to dispose of this stuff? People could give the items away during their lifetime. That has many advantages, including the client watching the joy on the recipient’s face when receiving it. But often the client won’t want to part with the items during life.

If a person wants to wait until death, sometimes they may want to include a specific bequest for each item in their will or trust (if assigned to the trust). But there are several reasons that’s not the best solution. First, the person might change their mind from time to time. While they may want to give the stamp collection to Johnny today, next year they may decide to give the stamp collection to Becky who reveals herself a philatelist. If the stamp collection had been given as a specific bequest in the Trust, the Trust would need to be revised by visiting the attorney again. Next, the person might decide to make bequests of additional items that they didn’t have before or which they hadn’t thought to bequeath when they signed their estate planning documents.

For the foregoing reasons, it’s far better to handle these sorts of specific bequests through a “Bequeath of Special Gifts” which is inherent in every estate plan that I prepare. Such a document is a valid way to bequeath property and is flexible so that the person can, unilaterally change the document without having to amend the Trust or come to me. With the Bequeath of Special Gifts, the person would then list the items, indicating a description of the items and to whom the client is bequeathing the items.

Again, if the person changes their mind, they could simply change the list. If they thought of an additional bequest, again, they could simply add it to the list. Each time they made a change, they would initial and date each entry.

The use of the Bequeath of Special Gifts has many benefits, including its simplicity. Perhaps most of all, this method gives the person a sense of more direct control over their personal property and the items which might have the greatest emotional value to them.