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Sunday, September 6, 2020

If I want furniture from my Dad's estate, do I have to purchase it from the other beneficiaries?

Today I'm going to post about another question I received from a reader. It's one of those "how exactly does this work" questions that I know of are interest to many of you. Here it is, with my comments below: 

"If I want furniture from my dads estate do i need to purchase it from the other beneficiaries? Please explain how that works."

As usual, the answer to the question is not a simple yes or no, but let me start by saying that usually there is no need for a beneficiary to purchase items.

First of all, it is going to depend on your status under the will. Are you a beneficiary of the residue of the estate? Is your share an equal share with others or a defined amount? Because you said that it's your father's estate, I'm going to make the assumption that you are supposed to take an equal share of the estate with your siblings. If you are not a beneficiary of the residue of the estate, then you will most likely have to purchase the items you want.

Secondly, it is going to depend on the wording of the will. Does the will address what is to happen with household goods? Are they simply lumped into the residue along with everything else? Were the contents of the house left to a specific person? The other option, of course, is that there was no will and you are all equal beneficiaries under the intestacy law of your province.

I find that most wills fall short when it comes to household goods. Nobody seems to think it worthwhile to deal with them in the will, even though the reality is that the division of goods can be an extremely difficult and emotional transaction for everyone. Because you are asking this particular question, I am going to assume that your father's will did not leave any specific instructions about division of household goods. If it is like most wills, they are simply not mentioned.

When they are not mentioned, the household goods become part of the residue of the estate and must be divided equally among the beneficiaries. This means equal in terms of dollar value. Seriously, there couldn't be a worse way of doing things but this is what most families are stuck with.

So this brings me to your question of whether you have to purchase the items. Some families do ask beneficiaries to purchase items because it is a simple method of keeping track of the value of things. Once everyone has bought what they want, the money is divided equally. However, this is not the only way, nor is it even the most common way things are done. Inheriting household items generally does not cost you money.

It makes sense for everyone to gather at the house on the same day and use a method of indicating which items they would like to receive. If nobody else wants an item you  have chosen, then you get that item. If two people want the same item, the executor will use a neutral method such as tossing a coin to see who gets it. Of course, all of that has to be done while a tally is kept of the values so that an equal division takes place. Most of the time, no money changes hands because it is simply a division of what is in the house.

If you want a couch that is worth $1,000, certainly you could purchase it (from the executor, not from the beneficiaries) or you could trade it off for other items from the estate that you would otherwise have received. Say, the dining room set that you were going to get that is also worth $1,000. The money works out the same, so this method is legitimate. If you've already received your equal share of the furniture and there is an additional item that you particularly want, you could purchase it from the person who received it.

In reality, a lot of families will voluntarily waive their right to receive exactly the same value of household goods as their siblings. Not every item in the house is wanted by anyone, and sometimes beneficiaries don't actually want any of the household goods. As long as all of the residuary beneficiaries agree, there can be an unequal division of the furniture.

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