Most of us get a kick out of those stories about a valuable piece of art or baseball card that ends up being purchased for almost nothing at the Goodwill store or at a garage sale. But presumably, the people who don’t think these stories are delightful are the family members who donated the items to charity or who put on the garage sale. Some of the errors that lead to such events arise, no doubt, in the context of an estate settlement. That is, when someone dies, it is common to pick through the deceased person’s belongings for things that have an obvious value, and to sell the rest at a garage sale or to donate them to charity.
Undertaking the process of going through someone’s belongings is no small task for the surviving family members, and the persons nominated to act as trustee or executor of the estate. And while most of us want to have our estate plans prepared by a lawyer, sign those documents, and go home feeling like they have taken care of that often uncomfortable experience, there are additional things we can all do to make the process of settling our estates after we are gone less onerous and less likely to result in a garage sale oversight.
Lawyers use the term “tangible personal property” to refer to what most of us would call “our stuff.” That is, things like furniture, jewelry, coin and stamp collections, or the things we have hung on our walls or stored in boxes in our basement.
A frequently overlooked part of the estate planning process is the identification of items of tangible personal property that might have value, either because they are of historical significance or have other qualities that make them unique, as well as family heirlooms or items that would have sentimental value to your surviving family members.
When people have their estate plans prepared, they are typically provided with the forms necessary to make specific gifts of items of tangible personal property. Completing this list is a good place to start. But actually going through your stuff and making an inventory of things that might be particularly valuable, taking photographs and indicating where they can be found, is probably the best way to avoid having your stuff become the next garage sale bargain.