Fairest way to divide inherited assets

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Fairest way to divide inherited assets

Postby jidina80 » Sat Dec 18, 2010 6:14 pm

What is a good way to distribute inherited physical assets among siblings when parents die? I am executor of my parents' will and want to find a fair way to equally divide household belongings and other physical assets without selling them and later dividing the cash. Parents are still alive.

There are good art pieces, rugs, furniture, etc., that my 3 siblings and I will want. The method of distributing the assets should ideally leave everyone with good relationships when finished.

My initital thinking is to have each person draw a number to decide who gets first pick for an item, etc. We'd then sell whatever one of us doesn't really want. However, I want to learn of clever methods other have used.

Thanks,
Just.
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Re: Fairest way to divide inherited assets

Postby xerty24 » Sat Dec 18, 2010 6:19 pm

jidina80 wrote:There are good art pieces, rugs, furniture, etc., that my 3 siblings and I will want. The method of distributing the assets should ideally leave everyone with good relationships when finished.

My initital thinking is to have each person draw a number to decide who gets first pick for an item, etc. We'd then sell whatever one of us doesn't really want. However, I want to learn of clever methods other have used.

Drawing a number won't work when there's 1-2 very valuable objects and many minors ones since the 3rd sibling will be much worse off. Better is to give everyone the same amount of monopoly money (or corresponding to whatever share of the estate your parents left each of you), and then bid on the items. If you really want something, you can have it - you just can't have as much other stuff. I would also simplify this process by going through all of the minor items and having each person express interest (or not). Then you can just give those away off the bat if only one person wants them.

Edit: also note that you can include cash in this auction process as well, especially if there is some taxable cash and some IRAs to be inherited. The IRAs, especially if pretax, will be less valuable than taxable cash in the same amount, for example. In addition, those IRAs might be more valuable to different people - for example people in lower tax brackets if traditional IRA, those planning to save for a long time if Roth, etc.
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Postby Steelersfan » Sat Dec 18, 2010 6:47 pm

I don't remember how we decided the order, but we just took turns picking items that we wanted. There were no items noticeably more valuable than the rest. As it progressed, everyone was past their interest in many of the items so we started pushing things onto people with little rhyme or reason. Things ended up being quite unequal, but that was OK with everyone.

We had very good relations going in and that didn't change one bit.
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Postby imagardener » Sat Dec 18, 2010 6:53 pm

I have been through this process and it was very very bad, hard feelings to this day. I think you are in a bad position and will be blamed no matter what you do or how you decide what method should be used, unless your siblings are able (with spouses/partners) to decide unanimously on how it should be done.

Ideally you should have the items inventoried and assigned a value by a third party (antique dealer or auctioneer) but there are always items that have little monetary value but tremendous emotional value. How can you put a value on those things?

Money is easy, really. Emotions run high in those times.
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Postby filmtheory » Sat Dec 18, 2010 7:28 pm

When I settled my parent's estate I had my siblings (and me) make a list of the dozen things we really wanted from the estate, excluding items of pure monetary value such as coin collection, etc. We read the typed out lists together and amazingly had no overlap at all. After that it was smooth sailing with the rest of the stuff, most of which was from the 80s and went to charity.
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Postby theduke » Sat Dec 18, 2010 7:30 pm

Steelersfan wrote:I don't remember how we decided the order, but we just took turns picking items that we wanted. There were no items noticeably more valuable than the rest. As it progressed, everyone was past their interest in many of the items so we started pushing things onto people with little rhyme or reason. Things ended up being quite unequal, but that was OK with everyone.

We had very good relations going in and that didn't change one bit.


My sister, brother, and I did the same as above, except we began by each writing a list of three things that each of us wanted. None of our three things were on the others list. Then we preceded as Steelersfan did. My sister was given all of our mothers jewelry and my brother and I devided our fathers tools.
No hard feelings between us.
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Postby FedGuy » Sat Dec 18, 2010 8:08 pm

When my grandfather (a widower) died, my mother and her two brothers sold his house and most of his assets and divided the proceeds evenly (as far as I know). Various minor items were doled out among the family (I was given an inexpensive china set, on the theory that I probably had among the most use for it).

There happened to be three items in his estate with both monetary and sentimental value. The three of them drew numbers, with the high number choosing first, etc. My mother got the last draw and was stuck with the item she wanted the least, but she recognized the fairness of the process and had no hard feelings about it.
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Postby rmark1 » Sat Dec 18, 2010 8:30 pm

After my grandfather passed away my aunt divided everything into numbered piles of fairly equal value, each of the 7 siblings drew a number, that's what each got. Then they traded with each other for any preferred items.
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Personal belongings distribution

Postby yellowjacket » Sat Dec 18, 2010 9:27 pm

When my Father passed away two years ago, as executor, I used newspaper classified listings for various furnishings to determine values of "used" items we inventoried, accounted for everything in the settlement. then the dollar things were split equally, with a final adjustment for the "things". Everybody (6 of us) signed off on the split. No hassle, they picked what they wanted after I set the values. Took turns picking, did it over the email system. All came and got their "stuff" one day, and we were through.
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Postby investor » Sat Dec 18, 2010 9:52 pm

if your parents are still alive then why not ask them designate their preference as to what goes to whom ? My mother was last to die and she so designated. I was executor and there were no problems.

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Postby mainiac » Sat Dec 18, 2010 10:10 pm

Since your parents are still alive, have them make the decisions based on conversations with the kids.

Once a decison is made, put it in writing and distribute it to the kids so everyone knows what to expect.

After my mother-in-law died, one son wanted a particular painting and hardly anything else. The other kids agreed. When the time came to actually clean out the house, the daughter took the painting and refused to recall that another decision had been previously made. She also tried to convince her brothers that "Mom wanted her to have the house". It was nasty and there are still hard feelings seven years later.

With my family, we took an inventory of the major items and chose our top ten items. There was a fair amount of overlap. We tried to negotiate, but there were still some strong emotions. There were also some instances of "Mom said she would give this to me".

I think the Monopoly money idea would have worked better.

Please let me reiterate - let your PARENTS decide!
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Re: Fairest way to divide inherited assets

Postby Watty » Sun Dec 19, 2010 12:53 am

[quote="xerty24Edit: also note that you can include cash in this auction process as well, especially if there is some taxable cash and some IRAs to be inherited. The IRAs, especially if pretax, will be less valuable than taxable cash in the same amount, for example. In addition, those IRAs might be more valuable to different people - for example people in lower tax brackets if traditional IRA, those planning to save for a long time if Roth, etc.[/quote]

The IRA's usually are not controlled by the will but instead are controlled by how the beneficiaries are designated on the accounts. It gets more complicated when estate taxes are involved but for most people the executor of the estate cannot change who get the IRA money

The beneficiaries need to be carefully designated and kept up to date so that the money will go where it is desired. For example if an IRA lists two adult children as beneficiaries, and one of them dies before the parent, then did the parent want that half of the IRA to go to the remaining sibling or do the deceased kids widowed spouse and the grandkids on that side of the family? I don't know how this is handled, but the best solution would have been to have had the beneficiaries updated after the kid passed away.

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Re: Fairest way to divide inherited assets

Postby xerty24 » Sun Dec 19, 2010 1:21 am

Watty wrote:
xerty24 wrote:Edit: also note that you can include cash in this auction process as well, especially if there is some taxable cash and some IRAs to be inherited. The IRAs, especially if pretax, will be less valuable than taxable cash in the same amount, for example. In addition, those IRAs might be more valuable to different people - for example people in lower tax brackets if traditional IRA, those planning to save for a long time if Roth, etc.


The IRA's usually are not controlled by the will but instead are controlled by how the beneficiaries are designated on the accounts. It gets more complicated when estate taxes are involved but for most people the executor of the estate cannot change who get the IRA money

The beneficiaries need to be carefully designated and kept up to date so that the money will go where it is desired.

Yeah, you're probably right about that. Since OP's situation is where the parents are still around, I would invite the family to think about who wants/should get the IRAs vs cash or other valuables. You could hold an auction for $1 of tIRA, $1 of Roth IRA, and $1 of cash and see how much was bid for each of them as a way to value these tricky assets across each of the possible beneficiaries. The results of such an auction would give the parents a good idea of what "fair" would be in terms of trading off leaving cash to one and IRAs to another. No reason the tax man should win (by giving an equal share of an IRA to everyone for example, instead of all to the lowest tax bracket person and cash to those in the higher brackets).
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Postby Patchy Groundfog » Sun Dec 19, 2010 9:10 am

After seeing what happened after my former mother-in-law died, I have tried to head off a similar situation for my own heirs.

I've given each of them a written plan for dividing my personal effects. It asks them to have two people, a representative of each heir, go through everything and assign a value to each item, using a professional appraiser when needed. Then they take turns choosing items, add up the cash value of what they've chosen, and even it out with cash. They can have a joint garage sale with the things nobody particularly wants and divide the money.

Of course they don't have to do it this way, but at least they know what my wishes are.

My children get along well, but so often this process brings some long-buried resentment or "Mom always liked you best" feeling to the surface, and sibling rivalries get passed down to the next generation.
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Postby Rodc » Sun Dec 19, 2010 9:22 am

Not your decision (unless your parent default).

Have your parents decide however they wish and have it documented in whatever way makes it a legal document.

Or, as they age and have less and less use for stuff, have them give away most while still alive.

My parents did both.

The parents get what they want, and it leaves little room for fighting.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.
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Postby MnD » Sun Dec 19, 2010 10:02 am

We made a spreadsheet of everything, agreed on values or got it appraised and then just started picking. We agreed up front that the disparities in total item value would be settled in cash.

We had zero major disagreements. We decided that if their was a hard conflict on an item, we would flip a coin or draw straws but we didn't have to do that. People did negotiate to head off trouble. For example the two sisters agreed that one got the china and the other got the silver.

It worked out great. One sister for example picked a bunch of stuff including a car, while the siblings who didn't want a bunch of stuff were thinking "great, that's more cash for me".
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Postby jidina80 » Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:21 pm

So many good suggestions and valuable lessons from past experiences. Thank you, everyone.

I especially like the suggestion of having each heir list the (up to) 3 pieces of property they would like to have, if the will does not distribute specific assets.

Also, the suggestions of settling monetary disparities with cash is something we might do.

It will likely be between 10 and 20 years from now that my executor services will be needed. In the interim, so much changes that I don't want to ask my parents for more information than they offer. I don't know if they will show me their will or not.

I am fortunate that my siblings and I all enjoy a comfortable living situation and value our affection for each other much more than worldly goods, which should reduce to potential for the process ruining relationships. Still, it worries me a little.

If anyone has additional ideas, I'd like to read them.

Just.
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Postby Rodc » Mon Dec 20, 2010 12:20 pm

I don't know if they will show me their will or not.


My personal take it that having you know what is in the will is very important.

It is also very useful for everyone involved to see the will.

As long as you all are rational decent adults this will make sure no one is surprised down the road (when emotions are running high because a loved one just died). It also helps in the case that someone takes advantage of them by having them change their will after their mental faculties decline.

Just a thought, but if I were in your shoes (and actually I am in your shoes) I would ask for a copy of the will.

Different folks are of course different, but my parents have always been very open about their will, and I think that is helpful.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.
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Postby Skiffy » Mon Dec 20, 2010 2:09 pm

Are all Boglehead-types saints? I've never seen such petty disagreements and accusations of stealing when family members have passed on! And over low value items--

Mom got out the permanent magic marker and wrote who was to receive certain items. I still tease my sister as she has some folding chairs that were supose to be "mine".

All I can say is emotions run VERY HIGH! Maybe things shouldn't be divided exactly equal, especially if one child has contributed more care as the parents age.
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Postby MWCA » Mon Dec 20, 2010 2:17 pm

DW and I parents are all alive. But Ive seen first hand a grandparent dieing and the aftermath. It wasn't pretty.
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Postby Olgadog1035 » Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:07 am

I'm a little confused by your question. Your parents are still alive and they may or may not show you their wills?

At least in my state an executor does not have any legal authority or duties until the testator dies. Moreover, most spouses name each other as executors before they name someone else as an alternate. Since you haven't seen the wills, you can't be sure that you're named as the executor at all. But, because there's no legal recognition of a "future executor" I can't see that you have any authority to distribute your parents' stuff without their express permission.

So why not ask your parents what they want done with THEIR property? Are they legally incapacitated? If not, they're the only ones with the privilege to decide how to use their property.

Things might be different if they executed powers of attorney, but there are usually restrictions on the nature of gifts and divestment of property. Plus, all decisions must be based on the best interest of the testator, not the beneficiaries. And some might argue that a life-time distribution of a rug that turns out to be valuable should be treated as an advance against that beneficiary's inheritance under the estate. This is a tough question for you to decide, but a really easy one for your parents to determine.

I think I'd talk to an attorney before I made any attempt to give away your parents stuff under the scenario you described here.

On a personal note, I was a co-attorney-in-fact under my parents' powers of attorney with one of my siblings. My family has been very close and everyone financially secure. Despite that, there were a lot of frayed feelings and relationships resulting in managing their affairs. When my parents died, I was very relieved that my parents both named corporate executors to handle the estates.

Cheers.
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Postby jidina80 » Tue Dec 21, 2010 12:03 pm

Olgadog1035, allow me to alleviate the confusion. I was asked by my parents if I would be executor for their Wills. They are healthy now so I am simply planning ahead; hoping to learn from the experience of others. This forum is great for that.

The next time I see them I will ask if they are specifying detail on how physical assets are distributed, but I don't want to pry.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Just.

PS: The experiences of others is also helping me identify changes I might make in my own Will.
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Postby DH287 » Tue Dec 21, 2010 12:46 pm

My parents are both living - they invited my siblings and me to their house after Thanksgiving. We each decided what items we'd like from their home (after they downsize or are gone). One item of overlap was easily worked out among the group. It's all written down, and when the time comes, they have the peace of mind knowing that there won't be infighting.

It was a strange, even surreal exercise, but practical, and I applaud my parents for having the foresight to get things worked out (hopefully very far) in advance...
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Postby dbr » Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:02 pm

My intuition is that if one or more siblings are inclined to get bent out of shape over slights, real or imagined, they will. Siblings that are inclined to make things work will likewise make things work. Nothing parents or executors can do will change those tendencies.
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Postby BigFoot48 » Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:11 pm

jidina80 wrote:The next time I see them I will ask if they are specifying detail on how physical assets are distributed, but I don't want to pry.
.
Actually, you might want to pry to avoid a lot of trouble in the future. I would also ask them if they have executed Durable Powers of Attorney, Financial and Health Care, and if not prod them into doing so.
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Postby Rodc » Tue Dec 21, 2010 1:14 pm

dbr wrote:My intuition is that if one or more siblings are inclined to get bent out of shape over slights, real or imagined, they will. Siblings that are inclined to make things work will likewise make things work. Nothing parents or executors can do will change those tendencies.


Lot of wisdom in that.

I do hope that proper planning will help at least a little, unless the people involved are just totally irrational (no rational solution will help with totally irrational people).

Too, at times like these emotions often just run high, which magnifies old hurts, slights, etc. It might help to recognize that up front (though there I am back to rationalizing the irrational. :) )

Maybe things shouldn't be divided exactly equal, especially if one child has contributed more care as the parents age.


Whooo boy, that there is a can of worms!

Bob: I was there the last year when they needed me!

Sue: Yeah because you moved home at age 42 to sponge off them! I was there when they needed help 10 year earlier!

Bob: Oh, that was nothing compared to what I did!

Repeat!

On a related note: if two parents both think they are doing 80% of the work to raise their kids and keep up their house they probably have the balance just about right. :)

People are far quicker to recognize and value their own work than the work of others.
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