Prized Possessions: Making sure your heirs get what’s coming to them

Laste modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A visit to our attorney last week to update our will produced a useful bit of information about a recent change in Massachusetts property law: After my husband and I have departed for good, all our “stuff” - the cameo brooch from Aunt Julia, the ceramic dish from Aunt May, the vintage golf clubs from Uncle Dan, etc., etc., etc. - can be divvied up among our heirs via a simple memorandum separate from our will. Better yet, we can update the memo at any time - no need for a lawyer to get involved.

According to the legal site nolo.com, such memorandums must be referenced in an individual's will to be legally binding, but don’t have to be included in the will or attached to it as a codicil. Just jotting down your wishes on a piece of paper will suffice, legally. (Important: Let your attorney or some other responsible party know where you’ve put that piece of paper.)The memorandum is legally binding on personal property only, however. You still need a will to distribute real estate or financial assets.

The November 2013 Consumer Reports Money Adviser newsletter notes that more than half of U.S. adults don’t have wills. And in case you were wondering why I included Bob Marley’s picture with this blog post - well, he's a high-profile example of what can happen when people neglect to write wills. According to LegalZoom.com, Marley is one of 10 celebrities - there are plenty more - who died intestate, leaving a big mess to sort out: “His estate, worth a reported $30 million, had dozens of claimants.”

Estate planning is not a place to pinch pennies. Money Adviser puts it this way: “Some people who pay professionals to fill out their tax returns, mow their lawns, or color their hair cannot bring themselves to pay a lawyer to prepare an estate plan for them.” The newsletter cautions against do-it-yourself wills generated with generic software programs. Instead, it advises hiring a flesh-and-blood attorney - and asking up front about the fee.If you need help finding a local attorney to help you draw up a will, contact the Hampshire County Bar Association’s referral service at 413-586-8729, or www.hampshirebar.org.And if you have a legal question that you need answered right away, act fast: Tonight, Nov. 6, from 5 to 7 p.m., the bar association is sponsoring a Dial-a-Lawyer event. Attorneys will be manning phones to answer questions - for free. The number is the same: 413-586-8729.