It is common for appraisers to assist attorneys, fiduciaries, trust officers and others in accurately dispersing items in a will or trust. This typically helps families and other heirs avoid problems of distrust, or worse, outright theft. As a self-defense tool, every estate, regardless of size, should have an inventory appraisal of all items of value. 

In addition to the appraisal, details including who gets which item and where each is located are critical. Then, every heir, plus trust officers or estate representatives, should get a copy of the appraisal. 

This type of planning can help avoid a scenario we see played out time and again. Estates are plundered, heirs point fingers and attorneys are called, much to the delight of the bad actors involved. The would-be heirs lose more than potentially valuable items; they lose an irreplaceable connection to the memory of the deceased. 

The major problem that faces heirs who had their would-be items taken is many times, heirs cannot prove that the treasured possessions had existed, been taken, or worse, stolen. Our advice is always the same. The owner greatly reduces the possibility of fraud after they’re gone by planning ahead.

Normally, it is not money that is taken, as very few career criminals steal inheritances. The thief is most likely to be a trusted companion, friend or family member. The motives typically include revenge, entitlement or greed.

It is also prudent to meet with a financial planner or tax preparer to minimize any tax issues that can be created by a large gift.

One real-life example of the importance of planning ahead involved a widow for who we prepared an inventory appraisal, which followed all our guidelines for designees and locations of items. The appraisal report and a copy of her will was provided to each heir and her attorney. 

It wound up being a smart move for everyone involved. A caregiver who had built a close relationship with the widow had convinced her to leave her a small gift by preparing a fake amendment to the will. If that had been the only will and the widow had not been so open with her family and children, trouble would have resulted.

We are constantly confronted with heirs distraught over property issues because the owner had not prepared ahead. With some planning, families can do a lot to stop the specter of “green-eyed monsters.” 

— Contact Tom with a question or an appraisal issue: or send your letter to 5525 N. 12th St., Phoenix, 85014.