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With a death in the family comes unity or division

There may be nothing so trying for Detroit families than a death in the family. Even if the death was expected, the havoc it can cause on the remaining family members can be substantial, and not for the reasons that most people assume. It is hardly ever a dispute over money that drives families apart, but over personal possessions. When the fight is over a prized family heirloom, it can destroy a family.

In order to avoid much of this fighting, many within the family law industry encourage people to plan for the future. This can take many forms, from creating a trust, to giving away gifts while still alive, to creating a will and more. The point is, however, to plan what will happen after one's death in an attempt to prevent relatives from getting angry at each other.

One way to go about doing this is to create a memorandum. Unlike a will, which tends to be more generalized, a memorandum explains exactly which personal possessions go to which family members. Although this may require some thought and a great deal of detail, recording who is to inherit what and (if you are feeling up to it) why, can hopefully deflect some of the anger away from the relative who got the heirloom everyone wanted.

Another way to deal with possessions is to talk to relatives before drafting a will and memorandum. Learn who wants what, write it down and make some difficult decisions. This helps to ensure relatives get the things they actually want.

Finally, sometimes more important than the family heirlooms themselves, it is important to record family stories and histories to preserve for future generations.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Your heirs want this even more than your money," Andrea Coombes, Dec. 16, 2013

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