What do people fight about in probate? Part 1

You hear stories of horrible probates; people fighting over probates and how those fights can damage families.

In my experience, most probates run pretty smoothly; usually everyone accepts that the person died, that the split of the property is going to be in a particular manner, and most of the time people act like grownups.

Nonetheless, sometimes things run off the rails as it were. And there are fights over who gets what or who is entitled to what or how the probate is being run.

Here’s some things that can cause problems in probate and some things you can do to avoid or minimize those problems.

First, personal property. What is known to the law as ‘tangible personal property’ and most people call ‘stuff’. The car. The jewelry. The dishes. The heirlooms. The pictures of family. In other words, just stuff.

For some reason, otherwise rational, reasonable people will get into knock down, drag out arguments over items that, realistically, aren’t worth more than a few dollars. I understand that people have an emotional attachment to certain things, but at the end of the day, those items are just things; they are not your parent, they are not your grandfather, they are just items that belonged to that person. Sometimes people will say things, make an offhand statement at some point, such as, “oh, yes, if you want that dish set when I’m gone, you can have it”. They may not even remember making the statement, but the person who heard it does remember it; and after your death, they are going to be insisting that Mom promised that they could have the dish set, and god help anyone who gets in their way.

What can you do to avoid this? Florida allows you to have a “tangible personal property memorandum”. This is a list of items that you want to be left to specific individuals; essentially you must refer to this list in a written will; and then on the list you must list each item and write who you want the item to go to; then sign and date the list and keep it with the will. Please be sure to describe the item sufficiently; don’t refer to your ‘good china’, refer to the description, the white china with the blue border; and be sure to identify who you want the item to go to by name; don’t say “my daughters can choose what they want”. Name which daughter you want to get which item.

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