Dividing Estates in Blended Families

By Angie Epting Morris

A second or third marriage with children can complicate the division of furniture and personal property in an estate settlement. However, it is still possible to avoid conflict and keep peace in a family if certain “rules of engagement” are followed.

These rules are:
1) Only immediate heirs or beneficiaries should be involved in the division process.
2) Commit to a common goal to achieve a peaceful and fair settlement.
3) Agree not to remove anything from a home prior to the official division process.
(These 3 rules are discussed more completely in How to Settle an Estate Peacefully.)

There are many possible variations of blended families, so any answer given about how to make a fair distribution must be generalized. For the sake of simplicity, I will present a scenario that best describes the most common situation for a blended family: when there is a marriage with two sets of grown children (teenagers or older).

Before having an appraisal done of all items (discussed below), both groups of heirs should go through the property and list items they remember to have been in their home prior to the second marriage. (In the case of small children, this becomes less practical and might require assistance.) This should create two specific groups of possessions to be divided separately by the two groups of heirs. If there is disagreement about any item, it should go into the general pool of items for division later in the process.

Also, each individual heir should write down 5 to 10 items for which they have a strong attachment or a special interest in having, along with a brief statement about why. Once all lists are made, the executor or appointed mediator should compare the lists for duplications. If a duplication occurs, that item also goes into the general pool of items for division later. The items not duplicated can be awarded to the individuals who made special requests. (NOTE: Remember, special interest lists are limited to ten items each.)

Before the division process begins, I highly recommend that a professional and reputable appraiser be hired to determine the monetary value of all items. Often this is not thought to be necessary, but I have found that the small amount of expense involved is well worth it. One important tip about this however, is to negotiate a flat fee rather than a commissionable basis of payment. Remember, the desired result is to create a fair division among heirs.

Once all of the specifically named items are divided, all other items in the property are then to be divided equally among all heirs. Whether by drawing from a deck of cards or rolling dice, heirs can take turns making their selections from that point forward. By having a commitment to fairness, this can be done successfully – even in a blended family.

Read Leaving Property to Your Children

Related articles:
Family Reorganization After a Loss
Family Rifts and Funerals
Burial Location
Who's in Charge?
Your Last Goodbye

Also by Angie Epting Morris:
Leaving Property to Your Children
How to Settle an Estate Peacefully
What is an Estate Executor?
Who Needs a Will?
Should I List Who Gets What in a Will?

Angie Epting Morris Angie Epting Morris is the author of THE SETTLEMENT GAME: How to Settle an Estate Peacefully and Fairly, a step-by-step guide addressing the age-old problem of how to divide personal property without dividing the family. The book is available on Amazon and her system is widely used and highly recommended by attorneys and financial planners.

Photo by Stephen Witherden/Flickr Creative Commons

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