The letter was magnificent. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We had just taken on a recently widowed client, Mrs. H. Her deceased husband’s letter to his trustees, which outlined his preferences for his trust’s administration and the disposition of his tangible personal property, was a model of thoughtfulness. I have seen only a few letters for trustees of an estate about the deceased person’s tangible property. Most people don’t keep tabs on the disposition of their “stuff.”

What I saw from Mr. H, though, took things to a whole other level. He didn’t just list who gets what personal items; he detailed when, how and—just as important—why.

He started the letter by stating it was not a will, just a description of his preferences to help the trustees make decisions not easily navigated in the will and trust documents.

Mr. H loved art and produced some works himself. His instructions gave the reader insights into what was important to him and what he believed to be valued by his survivors.

For the art displayed on his walls, he listed six people who could choose any one piece they wanted and the order in which they could pick, noting that the sixth person had received pieces in the past. The question, “Why does such and such get to pick first?” is answered easily: “Because Mr. H said so.” That isn’t a guarantee there won’t be arguments or hurt feelings, but it sure is a good step toward a peaceful distribution.

He had drawings and watercolors in a number of sketchbooks, many of which he stated were not very good but if someone liked one, he or she was allowed to remove just that work. And Mr. H was clear that the rest were to be discarded. That struck me as a nice way to allow survivors to satisfy their sentimentality without needing much space to store sketchbooks full of things Mr. H didn’t actually like.

He also helped the less knowledgeable recipients of the art learn about displaying art. Watercolors and sketches were to be framed with a double matte, he said. His oils could go up without framing, since that is a common practice, but, as he said, “the ONLY way to properly view a watercolor is with a matte around it.” He even gave some tips about color choices for the matte, preferring coordinated colors that contrasted with the works (putting light against dark).

As an art lover, he had a significant collection of art books, some of which were instructional. He preferred that those books and some of his equipment go to someone who seriously loved art, not someone who wanted to “try watercolors.” He did something similar with his firearms and other collections, detailing what was valuable and who he thought should receive items based on their interests.

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