When people die they leave behind an estate. An “estate” is what you owned at the time of your death. It can be real property, land and the buildings that sit on land, or it can be personal property. That’s “stuff.” After you’ve paid off all the bills and expenses, what’s left is “residue.” That’s what gets divided up amongst the heirs. If there’s going to be a dispute it usually comes from distributing that “stuff.”
It’s been my experience that if heirs are going to argue it’s over the small stuff. In particular, women argue over jewelry and antiques and men argue about guns and tools. Frequently people either don’t say who they want to get certain items or they give the same thing to more than one person. Old folks tend to give things to whoever is in the room at the time and then forget who they gave it too.
Here are a couple of tips to minimize arguments after you’re gone. First, big items can be put into your will. By “big” I mean items of real value that will still be around when you die. Don’t put cars, appliances, or things like that in a will unless you’re planning on dying tomorrow. By the time you die that new Buick will have been melted down and turned into a dishwasher. Stick to the big stuff.
Make a list of items and who is supposed to get them and attach it to your will. This gives your Personal Representative [what we used to call an Executor or Administrator] guidance on who gets what.
Finally, a tip on guns. Guns are rarely worth what people think they’re worth. To men, however, there’s some emotional connection that makes them fight like crazy over some old gun you could buy at Jay’s for a hundred bucks. To avoid these arguments do this: With your will or on some other paper write down who is to get each gun. List it by make and serial number. Then take a small piece of paper and write that persons name on it in your own handwriting. Unscrew the two little screws that hold the butt plate on the gun and put the paper underneath. Put the screws back in. Put in your will or on the paper you made that the person who’s supposed to get a particular gun has their name under the butt plate. That should end the arguments over the guns. I learned that little trick in a lawsuit in Midland that ended when we found out that the names were under the butt plates of about 60 Browning shotguns that the deceased had collected. Unfortunately, he hadn’t written down that the names were there. Be sure and let everyone know where the names are.
Most estates are closed with minimal problems. If you’ve made a few simple preparations like a will and some written directions, it will make things a lot easier on your heirs after you’re gone.