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Estate planning: It's about more than sharing wealth

Sometimes people get caught up in a numbers game when they're looking ahead to when they will pass their assets on to heirs, whether they live here in California or elsewhere.

One personal finance writer argues that when we plan estates, we should look at more than the dollars to be divided, but rather at the personal keepsakes and last wishes we want to share.

"The things that make your family unique -- not money, but stories and personal possessions -- those are most important in the legacy discussion," a financial planner quoted in the article states.

Some insurance company research backs up that assertion. Among Baby Boomers, 86 percent of those surveyed said that the legacies they treasure most are family stories and family history.

Nearly two-thirds of Baby Boomers said heirlooms and mementos are important parts of inheritance, while just nine percent pointed to money as what they most want passed on to them.

One estate planner said, "It's never about the money." Instead, she said disputes arise over personal property such as the rocking chair dad loved or the music collection grandma treasured.

She said the sentimental values of those kinds of items "causes the controversy" among heirs.

Many estate planners urge those beginning the process of looking ahead to talk to family members about personal items they might like to have. By talking it out and getting a sense of who might want what, it can help to minimize disputes later on.

A planner said that after the talks are conducted, formulate a plan on how to distribute assets, and then make the plan, and the reasons for it, known to all heirs.

That way there are few, if any, surprises and everyone has an understanding of the reasons for the way the plan was created.

Of course, there are going to be legal questions and issues to be resolved as part of that process; best discussed with an attorney experienced in helping people with thoughtful estate planning.

Source: Market Watch, "Your heirs want this even more than your money: It’s never about the money, it’s always about the heirlooms," Andrea Coombes, Dec. 16, 2013

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