Guilderland, NY – A few weeks ago my neighborhood had its annual garage sale. After hours of work, I was $40 richer and exponentially happier. My kid’s blow up pool? To a family with young children! Our 20 year old health rider? To someone else who will never use it.
While I was thrilled to spend so much time for so little money on the home front, in my professional life no two words strike more fear in my heart: Personal property. Why? Because unless you have items of significant worth (i.e., art, high end furniture or jewelry), most property is garage sale value. That couch you bought 10 years ago at a big box commercial store? $100 on Craigslist (if you are lucky). And while the couch may have little financial worth, it’s still better to sit on at the end of the day than the floor.
The distribution of personal property often involves more than worth or intrinsic value, there is sentiment, and the sense of a “win.” However, if you spend thousands of dollars fighting for garage sale value, how far ahead are you?
If you are in a relationship and will be separating from your partner or spouse, the distribution of your furniture, knick knacks, pots and pans, etc. does not have to be an expensive nightmare. Here are some tips to make the process easier:
- Go through your home, room by room, and write down what you want.
- Go through your list – are these items that you want because you can continue to use them, or because they have sentiment to you (or worse) to the other person? Be reasonable. If you’ve never used the chainsaw or bread maker, why do you want it now? Once you have narrowed down your list you are ready to:
- Exchange lists. There are items that one person may want and not the other, so they can simply go to the person who wants them.
- What if both of you want the same thing?
a. Flip a coin;
b. Sell it;
c. Tradeoff for something else.
While these seem like easy answers, when negative emotions rule it is difficult to make sound financial decisions.
You are probably noticing that I did not put an obvious choice on the list: go to Court! Like your lawyer, unless you have evidence as to the financial value, the judge has very few options. The judge can:
- Distribute items in kind (you get the toaster, you get the coffee maker);
- Ask both parties for a list. A local urban legend is that one judge took the husband’s list and gave the wife everything on it and vice versa. This shamed the couple into each giving the other what s/he asked for to start;
- Order it sold.
If you end up with a court ordered garage sale, you may be a lot less happy with your $40 payday than I was. It is always best to control your own destiny then end up with the Hummel figurines you never liked!
Margaret C. Tabak has been an attorney since 1988, starting her career in Schenectady and moving her practice to Guilderland in 1995. The law firm is located in Great Oaks Office Park (near Crossgates Mall). Margaret counsels clients in all matters related to matrimonial and family law. A resident of Guilderland for more than 25 years, Margaret received her undergraduate degree from SUNY Albany and her law degree from Albany Law School. If you have questions about a matrimonial or family law issue, contact Margaret for a consultation.