When it comes to property division, beware of sentimental value

When a Kansas City resident has a piece of property, like a favorite chair or an heirloom china set, he or she might say that the property has sentimental value to him or her. The term sentimental value means that, while the property might not be worth much to the general public, it has a great deal of worth to the owner.

Sentimental value is what value an individual, usually the owner of the property, puts on a piece of property and is almost always higher than what the property is worth to an average person. It is usually based on a person's association of the property with a person, place, thing or memory. It can also be based on the feeling that a person worked hard to acquire or improve the property, oftentimes spending money to do so.

There is nothing inherently wrong about attaching sentimental value to items, but one's doing so without awareness of that fact can become a problem in the course of property division in connection with a divorce or separation. Incidentally, even happily married couples who are in the midst of a business deal, like selling their homes, have to watch out for unrecognized sentimental value.

This is because, in the open market and in the courts of law, items are evaluated based on fair market value, or what a reasonable buyer, willing but not especially eager to make a purchase, for a piece of property that a willing but not overly eager seller would be willing to sell.

In other words, someone who puts sentimental value on a piece of property in, say, a divorce, may wind up objectively trading or giving up too much in order to keep it. While this might seem like a short-term gain to the person, in the long run, it can mean a person does not get as favorable of a settlement.

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