Every March we hear a lot about “March Madness”. For those who are not sports fans, March Madness refers to the season-ending NCAA College Basketball Tournament.

Well the term “March Madness” started me thinking of other times “madness” occurs. (Sorry, I’m a nerd and can’t help it.) Estate Planning has its own challenges for families. Unfortunately, one thing that often occurs when a person dies is that some of their family and/or friends kind of “lose it” to put things politely. At the risk of coining a new term, I’m going to unofficially call this “Probate Madness.” As we all know, the loss of a loved one is never easy, even when we know it is coming.

I’m not a mental health professional, but from my experience, a person’s assets can often, consciously or subconsciously, become a symbol to people of their lost loved one, or even the embodiment of their relationship with the person they have lost. People are in a highly emotional or raw state and do not always act at their best. Often, we don’t even expect it from that person, and they may not even realize what is happening themselves, but it happens nonetheless. So, we have the following formula:

(Highly Emotional State) + (Distribution of Money and Stuff) + (Family Dynamics) = Potential Probate Madness

That souvenir ashtray mom had from the family vacation to the Grand Canyon in 1978 may not have a dollar value, but it’s a memory and that doesn’t stop the kids from fighting over who gets it. (For millennials, an “ashtray” is what cigarette smokers used to catch the ashes falling off the cigarette while smoking.) It can get even worse when we are talking about family heirlooms, items that have a tangible value, or even money. Thus, Probate Madness.

So, Here’s a One Question Quiz:

What can we do about Probate Madness?

(a) Own nothing. Do nothing. Leave nothing for anyone to fight over.

(b) Destroy it all. Have your loved ones put everything you own at your death in a big pile and burn it “Viking Funeral” style.

(c) Do nothing and let nature take its course. A family “Battle Royale” may (or, more than likely, may not) be cathartic.

(d) Actually implement a real plan in advance so you can reduce the chances of arguments and promote peace and healing in the family and protect relationships.

As you may have guessed, we suggest (d) as the best answer. In our experience this is usually best accomplished by incorporating a Personal Property Memorandum into your Will-based or Trust-based estate plan. Warning, don’t do this without consulting an attorney. If it does not properly fit in with your Will or Trust you may actually make things worse.

A Personal Property Memorandum is a way for you to express your specific desires on how you want your possessions to be distributed. It works in conjunction with the Will or Trust, but differs from a specific bequest listed in a Will or Trust in that it does not have to be approved by the Probate Court, it can be easily changed without having to amend or restate your Will or Trust, and it can easily list numerous items without adding pages upon pages to your existing Will or Trust.

If you are interested in learning more about incorporating a Personal Property Memorandum into your estate plan, or creating or updating your estate plan, please contact us at (720) 420-1777 or office@rmlfirm.com to schedule a complimentary consultation with our knowledgeable and experienced attorneys.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice for your particular situation and reading this article does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you wish to obtain legal advice regarding your specific situation or are interested in reviewing, creating, or updating your estate plan, please contact us to schedule your complimentary consultation.