Tag: personal effects
Many people make a will with careful thought and planning as to how their assets will be distributed. Usually, though, a will only disposes of valuable assets: money (of course), real estate, investments, etc. A person can never fully account for all their possessions, however. As a result, we often see Estate Trustees struggling to determine the best way to manage and distribute the various items that a person may leave behind. Estate sales can provide an effective way of handling those belongings.
An estate sale often (though not always) occurs following a person’s death where all of the possessions of that person are placed for public sale. Often, this can take place in the home of the person’s whose estate is being sold, though online auctions are also popular these days. Usually, professionals are engaged to take care of the estate sale. These professionals will assist in inventorying, pricing, and managing the sale. The goal for many is to maximize the value of the estate, an important consideration for Estate Trustees.
For family members and loved ones, however, an estate sale also offers a way of attending to the often overwhelming and potentially guilt-inducing taskof disposing of a the deceased’s belongings. For some, handing this task over to professionals can be immensely helpful. Consider, for example, this recent story out of Alberta of an estate sale of the assets of a woman who had amassed a spectacular collection of approximately 20,000 antiques. The deceased’s daughter was able to sift through her late mother’s collection, take items of sentimental value, and then hold an estate sale for the remaining thousands of items.
For those who are pondering what might happen totheir personal effects following their death, they might want to consider disposing of items before death. Many parents might naturally expect their children to take the parents’ belongings after death and make use of them As discussed in this New York Times article, however, the tradition of passing along heirlooms from generation to generation is losing popularity. Holding an estate sale long before death (say when moving homes) can allow a person to have some say in the disposition of assets while also generating funds for their own enjoyment.
For anyone interested in holding an estate sale, it is important to do your research and find a reputable company able to take on this important task.
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After being embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute, Audrey Hepburn’s sons appear to have settled the division of their late mother’s personal property.
By way of background, Audrey Hepburn left her estate in equal shares to her two sons. Her will, however, did not provide any directions as to how her personal belongings were to be distributed. Many of the items in dispute are famous memorabilia acquired throughout her lengthy acting career.
In Ontario, all property belonging to a deceased person who dies with a will immediately vests in his or her estate trustee. However, it is not entirely clear as to whether an estate trustee has the authority, absent specific direction from the testator, to distribute the personal effects of the deceased.
In Re Bucovetsky Estate,  O.J. No. 303 it was held that in specie distributions are not permitted in the absence of a specific direction in the will or unanimous consent of all beneficiaries. Accordingly, without specific authority or unanimous consent of all beneficiaries, an estate trustee should take care to avoid distributing personal items.
Some options that may be available to an estate trustee who is confronted with the difficulty of determining how to deal with the distribution of personal effects of a deceased person include:
- seeking directions from the court pursuant to section 60 of the Trustee Act, R.S.O. 1990 c T. 23; or
- selling and converting the personal items into cash in accordance with the testator’s will or by section 17 of the Estate Administration Act, S.O. 1990, c. E.22
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Last week, the family of Martin Luther King Jr. settled a dispute surrounding two cherished family artifacts: the late reverend’s personal travelling bible and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal. King’s three surviving children—Martin, Dexter, and Bernice—disagreed about whether or not to sell these treasured items. The two brothers, who wanted to sell to a private buyer, outvoted their sister, who had possession of the items and wished to keep them in the family. Former President Jimmy Carter acted as the mediator in the case.
Sadly, this kind of case is far too common. We have written about such “family wars” several times. Of course, no two family disputes will be exactly the same; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Individual personalities and family dynamics as well as the significance of the issues in dispute make each family dispute different. The facts in this case are unusual because of the particular items in dispute. This family bible is significant not only to the family, but also to American history. The bible at issue was used by President Barack Obama during his inauguration in 2013. As well, not every family will have a former U.S. President act as mediator.
On the other hand, the themes represented in this case often arise in family disputes, no matter how celebrated or obscure the family. Here, the brothers desired to sell because the Estate needed the money. Bernice, however, could not conceive of selling her father’s cherished possessions. Conflict between sentimentality and more material considerations often fuel estate disputes.
As we have discussed before, it important for a lawyer to recognize the role of passion and sentimentality in estates disputes. Feelings should not be the sole driving force in litigation. As well, communication is the most effective tool to avoid estate litigation. Testators should speak to their families, particularly their children, about their wishes and the terms of their will, to avoid surprises and hurt feelings.
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Listen to Administration of the Assets of the Estate
This week on Hull on Estates and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss things to consider when administrating the assets of an estate and point out burdens of being and executor.