Monday, September 16, 2013

Estate planning for stashes: wills (part 2 of 4)

Last week, I gave you all the technical information about how a will or memorandum might be used to ensure that your stash is treated in accordance with your wishes after you're gone.

I strongly recommend that you have a lawyer prepare your will, rather than trying to do it yourself. The problem with DIY legal documents is that you don't know what you don't know, and that's particularly risky with wills, because if you make a mistake, by the time anyone realizes the documents are defective, you're dead and can't fix them. Some lawyers (the ones who give the rest of us a bad reputation) secretly love all the proponents of DIY wills, because a defective will tends to generate far more legal fees than a properly drawn one.

That said, you can make the lawyer's job easier, reduce the expense to you, and improve the chances of having a will that accurately expresses your wishes, if you do some planning before you see the lawyer. That's true of all the elements of the will (e.g., choice of beneficiaries, personal representative, trustees/guardians for minors, and age for distribution to children who are no longer minors), but the lawyer is more likely to ask about those basic issues than to ask about your yarn (or fabric or book or scrapbook) stashes.

Accordingly, before you consult with your lawyer, you should think about how you can describe your stash, and how you want it distributed. If you're a Ravelry member (or belong to a comparable group for other types of stash), and you catalog your stash there, keeping it up-to-date, it's extremely simply to simply refer to your Ravelry (or comparable site) account. If you're not that organized, think about how else you could describe the stash, and how to differentiate between portions of it, if it's to go to different people.

Then, you should discuss with the attorney the pros and cons of mentioning the stash in your will versus including it indirectly by way of a memorandum (assuming your state recognizes and enforces testamentary memoranda). If the attorney isn't receptive to your concerns (and you're not prepared to go looking for a different adviser), it might help to mention approximately how much money you've spent on the stash over the years, since the attorney may not be aware of just how much we indulge ourselves with pretty fibers and books and the like. If you have any concrete information on the stash's current value, or know of a resource that would help establish a future value, that would also be useful in the future, for placing a value on the stash in the probate inventory.

If you write the stash directly into your will, you'll need to be somewhat vague and all-encompassing in your description of it, to allow for future acquisitions and dispositions. In other words, the paragraph in the will would read something like this (subject to the standard wording in your jurisdiction):

"I give, devise and bequeath all of my yarn to my son, Joe Shmoe, provided he survives me by thirty days. In the event he predeceases me or fails to survive me by thirty days, I give, devise and bequeath all of my yarn to the nearest chapter of Head Huggers, or comparable charitable entity which supports the donation of handmade hats to patients who have lost their hair during treatment."

If you need to divide the stash among various heirs, it would read something like this (subject to the standard wording in your jurisdiction):

"I give, devise and bequeath all of my yarn, in equal shares, to my son, Joe Shmoe, and my daughter Josefina Shmoe, provided they survive me by thirty days, or to the survivor thereof. If Joe Shmoe and Josefina Shmoe cannot decide on a fair and equal distribution of the yarn, then I give my personal representative absolute discretion to make the division of the yarn, and the personal representative's decision shall be final."


"I give, devise and bequeath all of my wool yarn and the circular needles to my son, Joe Shmoe, and the rest, residue and remainder of my yarn and knitting tools and supplies to my daughter Josefina Shmoe, provided they survive me by thirty days, or to the survivor thereof. [etc.]"

Depending on how detailed you are with your stash cataloging, if you participate in a site like Ravelry (or GoodReads for books), you could add a beneficiary's name or code to your stash catalog. Ravelry and GoodReads both have a field for user-defined tags, so you could either use a beneficiary's name or something more generally descriptive in that tag, and then the will language would look something like:

"I give, devise and bequeath all of the yarn tagged at my Ravelry account with "Joe" [or: tagged with "luxury" or even "Group A"] to my son, Joe Shmoe, and all of the yarn tagged at my Ravelry account with "Josefina" [or: tagged with "daily use" or "Group B"] to my daughter Josefina Shmoe, provided they survive me by thirty days, or to the survivor thereof."

Another option, if you're better at photographing your stash than I am (and then organizing the pictures) would be to photograph your existing stash, and make sure to photograph new acquisitions as they're added, and then organize the pictures into folders on your hard drive (with a back-up to an external hard drive or a flash drive), with some sort of descriptive name, much the same way you would use a tag on Ravelry or Goodreads. Then, just substitute the hard drive location for the Ravelry reference in the paragraph above.

The picture above is what remains of my yarn stash, after switching most of my crafting to quilting. The navy bag is yarn for mittens, the white bag is yarn for chemo caps, and the teal bag is a Go Bag for my current project. If you divide your stash in similar ways, based on its intended use (e.g., clothes, afghans, charity projects, babies), and the intended recipients match up with the various uses,  you could refer to how or where the relevant portion of the stash is stored. It's not quite as reliable as a complete inventory, because you have to trust that no one will go in and mess up your sorting before the items are distributed, but it's better than giving your heirs no guidance at all, and it doesn't require you to do anything you're not already doing (except to write down who gets what).

Bottom line: think about what  you want to happen to your stash before you consult your lawyer. Have an idea of how to describe it, who should get it, and approximately what it's worth currently.

Next week, I'll share some suggestions for how to use a memorandum instead of a will, and then in the final week, I'll address the importance of communication with your heirs.

DISCLAIMER: The rules relating to wills and probate vary from state to state, and country to country. The information here is not intended as individual legal advice, but is simply offered as information you can discuss when you consult a qualified professional in your jurisdiction, who can advise you with respect to your local laws and their applicability to your specific circumstances.

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