When you visit the office, one of the first things you'll see is a large grandfather clock in the reception area. It's not particularly valuable, but to me the clock is priceless because it belonged to my grandmother. I remember, on the day it was delivered, how excited Granny was to finally have her clock. She'd apparently had her eye on it for a long time, but it took Gramps a while to save up the money to buy it. For them, that clock was a big purchase, and it was very special.
I was probably around 12 years old when the stately clock came to their little home. In all the years that followed, it never moved. It stood firm against the wall like a ticking sentinel, quietly watching as our family grew, and changed, and came, and went. And died. First, Granny, and then, almost four years later, Gramps. The house, my part-time childhood home, once filled with so much laughter and love, became lifeless. Empty. But Granny's clock kept on ticking.
When the time came to distribute my grandparents' assets, it wasn't at all clear who should get the clock. Gramps' will didn't contain a provision devising specific items of tangible personal property, so items like Granny's clock fell into the residuary estate - sort of like a big bucket that holds all the assets not given to specific beneficiaries. Gramps always said he wanted to "be fair" and "let the kids pick what they want," but such a passive approach is actually a recipe for disaster. Allowing beneficiaries to choose the assets they receive is inherently unfair because someone has to choose first, and subsequent beneficiaries might have wanted items previously selected by others. Also, complete fairness would suggest that the residuary estate be liquidated and the proceeds divided equally between the beneficiaries. Thus, Granny's clock would be forever lost in the interest of being "fair."
A much better alternative, one that eliminates confusion and minimizes animosity among the beneficiaries, is to create a document - separate from, but associated with, your will - that names specific people to receive individual items of your personal property. It's not complicated, but a Florida attorney should help you navigate the picky rules that might invalidate the document. If you're interested in learning more, give me a call.
I keep Granny's beloved clock in the office for a number of reasons. First, its very presence is a testament to deliberate estate planning, because a good plan is the only way to ensure that treasured heirlooms are passed on to family members as intended. Second, because the clock is connected to my grandparents, it's an ever-present reminder of why I chose to practice elder law in the first place. Finally, maybe most importantly, the ticking of Granny's clock marks the passage of time. A sobering but inescapable fact is that all of us will die someday, and many of us will grow old before doing so. Wisdom dictates that, in either case, we should be ready for whatever may come.
Are you ready for tomorrow?