Planning for Life

Who Gets Cash Found in House?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on April 7, 2020

By Harry S. Margolis


We recently had an inquiry about the following situation. The decedent's will said:

"Herman shall receive all contents of the house."

It also said the rest of the property would go to beneficiaries other than Herman. The house contained $4,700 in cash, a bank check of $3,000, and an uncashed personal check made out to the decedent.

So, who gets these items, Herman or the people who are entitled to the rest of the estate?

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Topics: probate, Probate Estate Administration, tangible personal property

Divide Things, Not Families

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on February 25, 2020

By Harry S. Margolis


In my article, How Can Tangibles Be Fairly Divided, which discusses various ways of dividing up tangible personal property in estates, I describe how one family with a lot of stuff devised a fair but complex system for distributing estate assets. The only problem with it was that it was a lot of work for one of the executors, who had to catalogue all the items, obtain appraisals for the more valuable ones, go online to get value estimates for those of less monetary worth, and circulate spreadsheets with all this information.

Fortunately for future executors, there's an online program,, that facilitates this process. It has a great motto: "Divide things, not families." The company founder, David MacMahan, a serial entrepreneur, explained to me that he was inspired to create FairSplit because of his own experience dividing assets, both in an estate and following his own divorce. He felt there had to be a better way, and spent considerable time researching and developing his program before making it available to the public.

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Topics: Probate Estate Administration, tangible personal property

How Can Tangibles be Fairly Divided?

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on February 11, 2020

By Harry S. Margolis


An article I recently wrote for Next Avenue, the public television website for Baby Boomers, explains how the family of a college friend divided 100s of items from their parents' estates among the four siblings. The article, "A Clever Way to Divvy Up Items After a Parent's Death," describes the multi-step process the family used to maximize the value each child, as well as their own children, would receive from the estate items.

Unlike savings and investments, what estate planners call "intangible personal property," items such as furniture, artwork, books, silverware, dishes, cars and clothes, ("tangible personal property") cannot be broken up and evenly divided. So, what's the best way to decide who gets what? Should it be based on monetary value, sentimental value, utility to the recipient, or any other standard? What happens when a single item or several have significantly more monetary value than everything else?

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Topics: Probate Estate Administration, tangible personal property

5 Ways to Divide Tangible Property in an Estate

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on September 10, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis

tangible property - will - estate-planning-Margolis-and-Bloom

When anyone dies, they’re likely to leave tangible personal property, which is what lawyers call anything you can touch, such as furniture, dishes, silverware, artwork, and photo albums. The problem with distributing this property is that you cannot do so exactly equally. In addition, many items may have little or no monetary value but significant sentimental value. So how can you be fair? Here are four methods you might use, or in some instances, you might use a combination.

  1. Sell. When the estate includes a few items of significant financial worth that can't be equally distributed among heirs, the property might be sold and the proceeds distributed equally as cash. This is what the family of a friend did. His parents had rescued one valuable painting when fleeing Europe before the Holocaust, which he and his sister sold at auction at Sotheby's.
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Topics: Probate Estate Administration, tangible personal property, personal representative, executor

7 Ways to Divvy Up Your Stuff

Posted by Harry S. Margolis on April 23, 2019

By Harry S. Margolis


When you die, your possessions will go to your heirs. Savings and investments are easy to divide up, since they can be turned into cash. While real estate is more difficult, it can be turned into cash by selling it or co-owners can share it. But the most difficult items to divvy up are your personal possessions—silverware, dishes, artwork, furniture, tools, jewelry—that are unique rather than fungible. In legal speak, these are known as "tangible personal property" and can become the focus of family feuds, often one or more children claiming that a parent had promised them a particular item.

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Topics: will in massachusetts, will, tangible personal property

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