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Property of Sentimental Value

Colin Smith died leaving an estate valued at £500,000, with a will that gave detailed instructions for the disposal of all financial assets, to his four remaining daughters and their two cousins.  However, the will contained no instructions with regards to the disposal of his gold watch, which had been in the family for five generations.  Although the watch had little financial value, it had great sentimental significance among the surviving family members as it was originally purchased by Abraham Smith, an ancestor who started the family building business in the early 19th century.

Although the beneficiaries were agreed that the will was an equitable division of Colin Smith’s estate, they could not agree on who should inherit the watch, and all felt they had a justified claim on the item.  The executor for the estate initially contacted the will writing company that drafted the will.  They stated that Colin Smith’s will only gave direction of assets specifically mentioned in the document and they could not help resolve any disagreement between the beneficiaries.  However, they suggested mediation might lead to a solution for the beneficiaries, bearing in mind the low financial value of the watch in comparison to the potentially signifanct legal costs.  Many of the beneficiaries were unhappy with the idea of mediation but, following the appointment of a mediator, the majority felt it was worth trying.

The mediator initially spoke all the beneficiaries involved, with a personal visit to their homes.  She listened to their perspective on the dispute, how they felt about the problem and their preferred options for settlement.  The following week all the beneficiaries attended a joint mediation meeting, with the executor present.  It became clear in the meeting that there was a great deal of mistrust between the beneficiaries and their main concern was that the watch would be sold and melted down to recover the precious metal.  Some felt that the watch was an important historical reminder of all the family had achieved and others considered it an irreplaceable reminder of Colin Smith, as a cherished relative and respected local businessman.   Following a discussion that lasted almost a day, the beneficiaries decided to bequeath the watch to a local museum, with a small financial donation, to guarantee the future of the item and to make it accessible to the public.  The beneficiaries signed a deed regarding the watch, giving the executor the authority to approach the museum and donate the charitable gift.


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