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The True Value of a Turtle Bell

Horn & Johnsen SC > Horn & Johnsen News  > The True Value of a Turtle Bell

The True Value of a Turtle Bell

My grandparents’ home in San Antonio, Texas was beautiful and mysterious, and was also one of the most uncomfortable places for a young child. Surrounded by irreplaceable artwork and collections from around the world, I learned from an early age not to touch anything. The only exceptions to this rule were two brass turtle hotel bells my grandmother kept on her coffee table in the “sitting room”. Each turtle had a wind-up bell mechanism on its underside, and when the turtle’s head or tail was pressed down the bell wound ring. As an only child for the first ten years of my life, I recall spending what seemed like hours sitting alone on the floor by my grandmother’s coffee table and playing with these turtle bells while the adults spent time “visiting”. For the same reasons, my oldest daughter eventually developed her own fond appreciation for the same set of turtle bells.

When my grandmother died, the only items I requested from her home were the beloved turtle bells. To my surprise, my request for the turtle bells was initially met with some resistance from those family members who were in charge of the estate. I know this resistance was not due to any poor intentions, but merely due to the incredible stress and emotional turmoil involved with the death of a close family member. In the end, I did end up with the turtle bells and, as an unexpected and wonderful gift, with my grandmother’s wedding ring as well. In fact, if you visit my office, you can find one of my turtle bells sitting at the reception desk ready to go in case you require assistance!

The moral of my story is that, if you have items of sentimental value in your home that you would like distributed to specific individuals upon your death, then it is imperative that you make a list of personal property distributions using a legally enforceable method. Merely discussing your desires with loved ones, placing tags on these items identifying the intended recipients, or simply writing down a list, are not enforceable methods of distribution.

Under Wisconsin Statutes, provided your will specifically references a separate document that is signed and dated by you describing tangible personal property and naming the recipients, you can use a personal property memorandum to make these types of distributions. By using a personal property memorandum, you then have the flexibility of changing this list on your own without paying an attorney to revise your will.

Remember that estate planning is about making things as easy as possible for your loved ones after you’re gone, thereby maintaining family harmony. Personal property can be an important piece to your estate planning puzzle, especially when your estate includes items of sentimental value such as jewelry, collections, antiques, or hotel turtle bells.

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