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Specific gifts may snarl Florida estate administration

Every family has its treasured heirlooms and many West Palm Beach readers may already have made plans for how they would like special family items to be passed on after death. One common way that people designate particular gifts to heirs is through specific bequests set forth in a will. In some circumstances, though, specific bequests can prove problematic during estate administration. Floridians may want to consider discussing alternatives with an experienced estate planning professional before committing anything to paper.

One disadvantage of making specific bequests is that it limits the ability of the estate executor to exercise discretion in distributing the assets. Differences in value between heirlooms and changes in value over time may create an imbalance in the total share of the estate received by different beneficiaries. Disparities in inheritances and personal desires for particular family valuables can lead to probate disputes among heirs.

Another concern that should be taken into account before making specific bequests is the potential impact of future estate taxes and other debts of the estate. Estate assets may need to be sold to cover those expenses. As a general rule, specific bequests fall last on the list of estate assets that can be sold to cover debts, so some heirs might get shortchanged while recipients of specific gifts realize a windfall.

Sometimes, simple forgetfulness creates problems when it comes to specific bequests. If family heirlooms have been sold or given away during life, the designated heirs to those items may challenge the will in order to equalize distributions.

Probate estate administration can be a trying process for heirs under the best of circumstances. The disposition of items with particular importance to a family can cause problems in the absence of thoughtful advance planning. An estate planning professional can help Florida residents choose the best way to handle family heirlooms to avoid estate administration headaches.

Source: Carroll County Times, "Legal Matters: Division of assets has potential to create discord," Donna Engle, Dec. 23, 2012

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