Estate & Trust Administration For Dummies
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Distributing a decedent’s personal and household property is frequently a challenging part of estate administration. Whether the estate is large or small, heirs are often passionate about the personal property of the decedent. If the decedent left a letter of intent, follow the decedent’s stated wishes. Otherwise, create an equitable system for the beneficiaries to choose from the decedent’s assets.

Unfortunately, figuring out how to divide the property isn’t always clear. This situation arises under the following conditions:

  • The decedent leaves all personalty (personal and household items) to a class of beneficiaries, such as “those of my children who survive me”

  • The personalty falls into the residue (the assets left after payment of all debts, administration expenses, and bequests and devises) for lack of a specific bequest, and the residue goes to a class or group of people

  • The decedent dies intestate (without a will) and a group, such as the decedent’s children and the issue of any deceased child, per stirpes (by right of representation, the children of such deceased child, and if any of those children is deceased, that deceased child’s children, and so on) inherit

In each of these three conditions, no plan is available for distributing the personal articles. Here are ways to deal with this situation.

Basing distribution on the decedent’s letter of intent

In an ideal situation, the decedent has left a letter of intent in which he or she listed which items are to go to whom. This letter may be referred to in the will, and it takes the burden of division off you as executor.

Simply follow the decedent’s clear wishes in the letter of intent and distribute the respective assets to the designated persons.

Don’t forget to get receipts listing each item received and assents to the accounts.

Creating a system for heirs to choose personal property

If you’re left no guidance by the decedent, you must create an equitable system for the beneficiaries to choose the items they want to have. One method is to draw the names from a hat to establish the order in which they may choose. Each person then takes a turn choosing one item, until all items of interest are accounted for.

Disposing of unwanted personal property

As you’re distributing the personal property, you may come across some items that no beneficiary wants. If that’s the case, you have several options. If you have enough items to attract an auctioneer, you can hold an auction, with the proceeds divided among the beneficiaries. Or you can donate the unwanted personal property to any charity that takes such property.

Be sure to get a receipt if you’re thinking of taking a tax deduction for the charitable contribution, if it’s allowed.

If the will directs you to give the personal property to charity, you can deduct the amount of the gift on Form 1041, Schedule A, which is located on the back of the form.

Don’t forget to get receipts listing each item received and assents to the accounts.

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