Here’s what a beneficiary said to the Executors of an estate recently:
“I bought some things for mum and I would like them back.”
He was one of 4 beneficiaries of his late mother’s estate. The items in question were a microwave, hair straightener, and a coffee machine.
How would you react if you were the Executor of the estate if, as was the case here, you were also a beneficiary?
I have two reactions:
1. The legal response
A gift is a gift. Once the valuable items were ‘given’ to the mother, she became the owner of them unless, of course, they came with a qualification, such as ‘until you die’ – not likely.
As mum owned them on her death, they formed part of her estate and should be distributed to the beneficiaries according to her Will. It gave her estate equally to her 4 children.
2. The pragmatic response
Accepting that the items were part of mum’s estate, how do you distribute the items equally between the beneficiaries? There are two answers:
- All the other beneficiaries can agree that the other one can have the items and no further questions asked; or
- They can have the items but the value of them is offset against their other entitlements under the Will.
My experience tells me that one of the major reasons families go through a form of hell after the parent has gone to heaven, is over little things, those with no real monetary value, but which are infused with sentimental value. I can think of the war medals and dad’s tools. There can also be a sense of self-righteousness among some children e.g., ‘I should be repaid for my generosity’.
If reflecting what a parent would want usually after their death, namely, family harmony, it is often not worth asserting the strict legal principles. Then again, it can be, if we are talking about a significant asset e.g., the Jewells.
Parents can avert this problem if they make a list of what things they want to give, and to whom, when they die. The list is kept with their Will and can avoid the unseemly jockeying that can go on between children over mum’s ‘things’.
We never really stop being parents, even right up to our last breath.