“What? That old thing?” Some people boast about the value of the objects they own. Others take the opposite approach, downplaying the cost of a painting or piece of furniture they “found in a thrift store.” They may care so little about an item’s monetary value that they do not bother to mention it in an estate plan, causing problems for their family when dividing the estate.

The value of things can change over time

Something your great grandmother picked up on her travels through Africa may now be a museum piece, despite the fact it is currently gathering dust in the attic. Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings were almost worthless during his lifetime; now, they are worth millions. Your loved one may not even have realized that an item was valuable — and that can lead to disputes over an inheritance among their heirs. 

Things may have a value that is not monetary

Irrespective of financial worth, family members may become attached to certain items for sentimental reasons. Perhaps your grandad’s desk holds particular value for you, as he inspired you to write. Maybe your sister loves your grandmother’s rings due to the hours she spent playing with them while sitting on grandma’s lap as a child. The emotional attachment people have to certain objects can also lead to fights.

How do you divide up things not mentioned in an estate plan?

There is no straightforward answer on the best way to divide assets omitted from an estate plan. You could use the monetary approach, bringing in experts to value the different items and give everyone a fair financial share of the overall total. You could sell the things, splitting the money received between you. Or you could discuss the items with your family and try to find a fair result for everyone based on the sentimental reasons people want particular objects. Avoid taking anything without the permission of the other beneficiaries of the estate. If they find out, it could provoke an ugly situation and lead to legal challenges.