What Kind of Problems Does Drafting a Will Present in Deciding Who Gets What Property?

by Anna Assad
The family home is difficult to divide among your will beneficiaries.

The family home is difficult to divide among your will beneficiaries.

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You may experience unexpected difficulty when drafting your will, the document used to provide instructions for estate division after your death. When you're writing your will, you must decide how to divide your property among your loved ones fairly but without causing hard feelings between family members.

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Accounting for Real Estate

Real estate is often difficult to account for in a will. Potential problems include family tension created by property division and the accidental slighting of a beneficiary. You may struggle with dividing real estate in a way that is fair and won't cause problems between family members. For example, if you leave the real estate to your children in equal shares and one child wants to live there, he'll have to buy out the others. If he can't afford the buyout, the home has to be sold and the child becomes angry with his siblings.

Dividing Real Estate

When you're dividing real estate, consider the needs and wants of each heir. While it's common for parents to want to leave equal shares to their children, one child may need the real estate more than the others for financial reasons. If you've helped out one beneficiary more than the others during your lifetime, you may not want to give that beneficiary a full share. Speak to your beneficiaries if you decide to divide real estate unequally so you can explain your reasoning.

Personal Property

You don't need to account for each small item in your house, but you should address items with sentimental value in your will or on a list for your executor. Dividing heirlooms and collectibles is often difficult because you don't want your choices to upset your beneficiaries. Consider the personal significance of each item to your beneficiaries when dividing personal items in your will. While one beneficiary may appreciate the tea set your aunt left you, another beneficiary who was very close to your aunt may care for the tea set on a more personal level. If you have very expensive items you want to include in your will, such as jewelry, consider the market value of each piece. You may unintentionally slight a beneficiary if you don't account for the values of expensive personal items.

Vehicles and Luxury Items

Vehicles and luxury items, such as a boat, may be left to a beneficiary or included in the estate as whole to be divided with other items in the shares you assigned. As with other expensive items, consider the monetary value of each vehicle or luxury item if you're dividing the property unequally so you don't short a beneficiary. Use your personal knowledge to avoid leaving items to a person who won't appreciate the gift or can't use it. For example, if you have a boat and two beneficiaries, one of whom enjoys boating, consider leaving the boat to the beneficiary who likes boating. Leave the other beneficiary other items to make up for the value of the boat.

Cash and Financial Accounts

Cash and other financial products, such as bonds, are usually easier to divide because the accounts have fixed values. If you have a beneficiary with limited financial means, you may want to consider giving that beneficiary more of your cash assets, as the cash assets are quicker to transfer after your death than other property, such as real estate. You may be able to name successors on some of your accounts, avoiding the need to address the accounts in your will. If you have a pay-on-death bank account, for example, you can name the person who gets the account's contents when you die.

Legal Considerations

If you decide to leave your spouse or child only a small amount of property, state laws may allow your spouse or child to take a bigger share of your estate anyway, despite your will's instructions. The rest of your property is still divided according to your will, but your other beneficiaries would receive reduced shares. These "elective share" amounts for a spouse vary by state, but she may be able to receive one-third or one-half of your entire estate even if you leave her less in your will. You may be able to disinherit a child as long as your will states that you're not leaving anything to that child. If you fail to mention the child by name in your will, she may receive a share automatically under state laws.