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Sentimental items: A key element in estate planning

Don't forget the little things when doing your estate planning. Those little items may prove far more important in the end than your major assets.

After all, you can add items with sentimental value to your will and your estate plan. These could include old photographs, artwork and family heirlooms like a wedding dress or a ring. These items may have been passed down for generations, or they may just be things that you are leaving to your own children.

While your focus is on the value of your vacation home or your investment portfolio, your children may be far more concerned with those little items that have almost no value in the real world.

You can't split them

One of the big problems is that you can't always split up these items. You only have one. If you have multiple heirs and they all want the item in question, there's no recourse.

For instance, imagine that you have a vacation house that is worth $500,000. If you can't decide which child should get it, and you have two kids, you can sell the house and give them each $250,000. If they both want a vacation house, they can use that money to buy them. If they want to spend it in any other way -- or save it for retirement -- that's up to them.

You don't care what they do with the money. You just care about splitting things up evenly so that you can avoid an estate dispute after you pass away. This keeps the kids on good terms.

Now, imagine that you also have a simple wedding band that belonged to your grandfather. You had it appraised and it was worth all of $500. That's nothing compared to the vacation home. It's a trivial amount of money to your children.

However, they both have wonderful memories of their time with their grandfather. Holding his hand as they learned to ride their bikes. Opening presents with him on Christmas morning. Going to visit on summer vacation.

To them, that ring now represents those memories. It ties them to their grandfather. They both want it because it's special to them.

The same tactic that you used with the vacation home doesn't work here. You can't sell it and give them each $250. They don't care about the money. They could both buy their own rings if that's what they were after. They want that specific ring and the memories it holds, and only one of them can have it.

Your options

As you can see, the hardest part of estate planning may be dealing with items with very little value. Make sure you carefully consider all of the legal options you have to decide what is best for your family.

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