How to divide up family heirlooms

How to divide up family heirlooms

Often the biggest disputes arise out of what seems to be the smallest of things – like who gets grandma’s yellow pie plate. A child may “know” that it was meant to be left to her or that it “means” more to her than to a sibling. The quarrel may not be about a particular item at all but, sometimes even unbeknownst to the participants, about old wounds and slights.

Ways to divide up family heirlooms

How do you keep your family from falling apart over grandma’s yellow pie plate or the mahjong set or the milk glass (real life examples)?

  1. One solution is to give it away while your hand is warm.
  2. Another is to appoint a non-family member, someone who will not play favorites, as your executor and let him or her decide and be roundly hated by all and sundry.
  3. Yet a third is to handwrite a Memorandum of Heirlooms and Personal Possessions, signed, witnessed and notarized just like your Will and attach it to your Will or your Letter to your Executor so it won’t get lost.

What about the things you don’t particularly care about, but your children or grandchildren might discover that they do? Is there any “fair” way to divide them up?

There are several.

  1. One way is to hold an “NLF draft.” Each person draws a number and chooses in numerical order, perhaps from the house, perhaps from the room with a new number draw for each room.
  2. Another is an auction using monopoly money.
  3. Or you could dispense with this altogether by directing your executor to hold an estate and/or garage sale and donate the rest to charit y or take it to the dump. If someone really wants Grandma’s yellow pie plate, they can buy it at the sale.

Most of the time, no one wants our china or crystal or sterling silver: people entertain differently today. But they may just discover that they all want Grandma’s yellow pie plate – or that another relative doesn’t “deserve” it.

Don’t let the last memory they have of you be that you left it to the “wrong” person.

Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is active in the Texas and Austin Bar Associations. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

She assists families of people with special needs, people planning for the retirement years and people administering estates.

What’s considered proper etiquette when it comes to discussing death and inheritance?

Conversations between family members about the eventuality of death and subsequent inheritances are often awkward and uncomfortable. They’re only made more so because people aren’t sure what’s considered appropriate to do or say.

Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions families have about inheritances:

1. When it comes to family heirlooms and keepsakes, how should they be divided?

If one child has a particular affinity for a certain item — say your oldest daughter has considered the broach you wore to your wedding special ever since she wore it to her prom — you can certainly leave it to that child. Just make sure that you leave the other children something of equal value.

As long as you are fair about the division when it comes to value and sentiment, it should be fine.

2. What if the kids disagree about who should get an heirloom?

It isn’t fair to let the oldest child have it just by virtue of his or her birth order. That makes the rest feel like they’ll always be slighted.

Instead, have the kids draw lots to establish the order and then let each child pick an item on his or her turn until all the mementos or heirlooms are divided. That’s the fairest way to handle it.

3. What if someone asks for a specific item?

This can be touchy, but if you keep in mind that your goal is to try to prevent family discord, you can handle it. Find out if anybody else feels strongly about that item. If they do, it should go into the pile of things that are divided up after the lots are drawn. The child that asked will just have to take his or her chances.

If no one feels that strongly about it, let the child who asked have it — but then, he or she has to go to the end of the line when it comes time to pick from the remaining heirlooms. That helps balance things out.

While each family is different, the important thing to remember is to approach the situation in a loving, respectful manner. That’s the best way to keep things from evolving into a complex family legal issue — like a disputed will.

Source: AARP, “Inheritance Etiquette: Talking Things Out,” Austin O’Connor, accessed May 09, 2018

Financial Planning Advice From KJH Financial Services

How to divide up family heirlooms

The executor of an estate is responsible for management if there’s a will, but a court-appointed administrator will oversee an estate if the deceased didn’t leave explicit instructions. This includes dividing jewelry among the surviving family members, and sometimes among siblings. There are a few ways in which executors and administrators can divide jewelry, and it’s important to get it right so that everyone is satisfied with the result.

Dividing family jewelry can be a contentious issue, especially if each sibling has their own idea of who should receive it. Administrators and executors can use these ideas to divide the jewelry fairly and avoid any arguments between family members. You’ll have a fair amount of flexibility to make your own decision if the parties involved can’t reach an agreement on their own.

Start with the Will

If the deceased has written a will, the executor is legally and morally bound to manage the estate based on their instructions. In this case, dividing family jewelry is easy, and your job is simply to execute their wishes. Let everyone involved know what the will says and make it clear that you are bound to respect it.

It’s important to get a signed release from the recipient confirming that they received the items in question. This release needs to be filed with the probate court responsible for the estate. You can only divide jewelry that isn’t left to a specific person in the will.

Dividing Value Equally

Some wills include instructions for general division rather than for specific items, such as dividing possessions equally among siblings. If you need to divide jewelry equally, have it appraised by a professional to get an estimate of its value. From there, you can use your best judgement to come up with a division that makes sense for everyone.

Try to divide the jewelry in a way that satisfies each sibling—tempers can flare surprisingly quickly in these situations. If you have two $500 earrings and two $500 necklaces for two people, for example, give one set to each side. Keep in mind that everyone should understand and accept your decision as fair, even if it’s not their ideal outcome.

You can also talk to the surviving family members to determine their preferences. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to divide jewelry equally—if one person gets more jewelry, you can make up the difference with other items of the same value.

Requests

If there isn’t a will, survivors may request individual pieces of jewelry they’re particularly attached to. It’s still important to divide the jewelry equally, so you need to get the jewelry appraised even if siblings want specific items. If one person receives more value in jewelry, you’ll have to balance things by giving the other person more of something else.

As the legally authorized executor or administrator, you can divide jewelry and other possessions however you see fit, as long as the total value is equal. Talk to everyone involved to understand what they want, then try to come up with an idea that works for each person’s needs. If you can’t get everyone to agree, you can also sell the jewelry and divide the money equally. If you had a diamond ring to sell , for example, you can do so online; just make sure it’s a trustworthy, accredited business.

Dividing jewelry between siblings is relatively simple if there’s a clear will, but it can get tricky quickly if you have to divide the jewelry yourself based on individual requests. It’s important to carefully navigate these situations and do everything you can to come up with a fair solution. These tips will help you find a fair way to distribute jewelry among siblings even if they have trouble agreeing on a solution.

How to divide up family heirlooms

By John Ewoldt , Star Tribune
August 25, 2011 – 9:34 AM

When Bob Alberti’s cousins learned that his grandmother had died without a will, they descended on the house to take what they wanted — even unwrapping unmarked Christmas presents. It gave him a firsthand look at how greedy family members can take advantage when there isn’t a plan in place.

“I learned a lasting lesson then: Do your family a favor and make a will,” Alberti, of Minneapolis, said of his childhood experience.

As the nation’s 76 million baby boomers age, more families are being faced with how to divide personal belongings. Adding to the challenge: There are more family members in the mix because of changing family dynamics, most often because of divorce.

Wills often cover the transfer of cash, property and stock, but often skip over who gets household possessions. That can cause emotions to run high over who gets Grandma’s pearl necklace or Dad’s fishing pole. Disagreements over who gets what can lead to bawling and brawling between siblings that can scar relationships forever.

“How often it happens is anecdotal, but too often siblings fight over common possessions and never speak to each other again,” said Marlene Stum, a University of Minnesota professor who helped write a guide called “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” “When an inheritance is involved, rivalries play out.”

While experts say planning can help, sometimes it’s not enough to stave off greed and hurt feelings.

“It’s important for families to talk, because there are always hidden agendas,” said Stum. There is often a “mom loved you best” assumption lying in the weeds.

To avoid this problem, families need to establish goals and decide what’s fair. Otherwise, laying claim to an ordinary candy dish can become symbolic of someone trying to right all those childhood wrongs, she said.

Families have different methods that have worked, but all take patience and planning. Some sit down when parents are still alive to decide who gets what.

If the process takes place after a death, families often let the siblings have their pick of the possessions, going from oldest to youngest or vice versa.

Whatever it is, experts encourage an impartial game plan.

“Having a plan avoids a situation like the uncle who picks Grandma’s house clean while all the other relatives are at the funeral,” said Stum.

Sometimes keeping it fair means taking what seems like an extreme measure.

Bonnie McPherson, who runs an estate sale company in Edina, recommends that the executor of the estate change the locks on the house when the parents or grandparents die.

“The person in charge shouldn’t allow people to start helping themselves,” she said.

If a family decides to have an estate sale, her company often has a family “pre-sale” after the items have been given a value. Family members can select the items they want, but not pay for them; their value is deducted from their total proceeds once the sale is over. “So no one can say at the end that you got more than I did,” she said.

Families make it work

John Robinson of Maple Grove said it was an “overwhelming” experience when he was put in charge of dividing possessions among four middle-aged siblings after his 81-year-old mom died in January. “I wanted to be fair and transparent to everyone involved — and honor our mother, too,” he said.

He divided the possessions into four categories: antiques and furniture, kitchen and electronics, figurines and collectibles, and jewelry. He hired an appraiser to establish value on larger antiques, went to the IRS guidelines for establishing values on smaller items, and discussed the fairest way to divide everything among the four kids. They drew numbers out of a hat to determine the order of picking.

Patti Dillon of Edina said that she and her five siblings kept the peace because her oldest sibling, the executor of the will, wouldn’t allow any “promise” claims.

“Unless it was in the will, we did not honor claims that Mom promised someone something,” she said. Instead, her brother made a four-page list of everything that wasn’t being donated or tossed, and followed the parents’ instructions of letting the six siblings choose in order from oldest to youngest and then youngest to oldest.

When it was done, there were no hard feelings. “Just the way my parents would have wanted it to be,” she said.

For some families, the parent or grandparent wants to divvy up the possessions, or it happens naturally through downsizing.

If decisions are made prior to a death, they can reflect the owner’s wishes, Stum said. It also gives the parent or owner a chance to share stories, history and traditions.

That option has a practical side, as well. Shannon Law, who has an appraisal business, said she has seen many people in their 60s and 70s start the process. “They don’t want their family to have to take on the burden of going through a lifetime of accumulation,” she said.

But that doesn’t work for everyone. Robinson said it never occurred to his family to start putting names on cherished items while his mom was still alive. “It would have been crass to pick over the stuff when a person’s health is compromised,” he said.

A plan, but still tears

Even the best-laid plans can result in raw feelings. As each member in Robinson’s family chose an item, its value was deducted from the amount that each person would receive from their mother’s estate. That was designed to prevent resentments of one person choosing valuable items while others chose sentimental ones. No one wants to hear “You got all the good stuff” six months or even 10 years after the divide.

Although his siblings agreed on the selection order by drawing numbers out of a hat, the sibling who was last in line in Round One made it clear that she was disappointed that she didn’t get the pair of antique walnut end tables.

Robinson’s brothers and sisters agreed that exchanges could be made. The brother gave up the end tables. And there was peace in the family.

“I would have loved to have those tables, too,” said Robinson, “but it wasn’t worth the baggage.”

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or [email protected] If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/dealspotter.

RESOURCES

“Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate: A Guide to Passing on Personal Possessions” by the University of Minnesota Extension Service. To order a copy ($12.50), call 612-624-4900 or go to www.yellowpieplate.umn. edu.

“Moving on: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home” by Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $16).

General appraisers: Shannon Law (612-729-5910, www.per sonalpropertysolutions.net), Bonnie McPherson (952-920-2849), Tracy Luther (651-770-6175, www.lutherauctions.com). For more choices, go to www.twin citiesappraisers.org.

John Ewoldt is a business reporter for the Star Tribune. He writes about small and large retailers including supermarkets, restaurants, consumer issues and trends, and personal finance.

How to divide up family heirlooms

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I’ve seen many family rifts created over an estate. Without clear guidance on your wishes, heirs and relatives may descend into fights over your belongings, sometimes taking grudges to their own graves. Don’t let that happen to your family. Here are a few tips on how to smooth out the kinks of your will before you take your last bow.

Determine Beneficiaries in Your Life Insurance Policy Ahead of Time

If you have a life insurance policy, you have the option to name beneficiaries before you die. You can divide the payout evenly among those you’d like to name, or you can assign a particular percentage of the payout to each individual. Either way, you spare your beneficiaries the unpleasant conversation of who gets how much.

If there are any hurt feelings after the fact because this person or that person didn’t receive the payout they feel they deserve, it’s really not your problem anymore. At least you spelled out your wishes legally and ahead of time.

Involve Your Beneficiaries in Inheritance Decisions While You’re Alive

If you want to involve your family in the asset-dividing task while you’re still alive, there are a couple ways to make this work. Certified financial planner Jody Giles — author of Missing Pieces Plan, a guide to help people plan for their final wishes — offers two options for family participation in asset assignment to avoid infighting when you pass.

Round Robin

One way to give away heirlooms now, Giles says, is to hold a “round robin” where each beneficiary gets a turn picking an asset or heirloom.

“I suggest making a list of all the items you deem sentimental and circulate it to your loved ones,” says Giles. They can then choose from the list, or add items you may not have even thought about. “You might find they really care about a coffee mug that you don’t see as valuable, but they do,” she says.

Once you have a complete list, you may consider separating sentimental items (coffee mugs, trophies, a wine opener, nostalgic popcorn bowl) from valuable items, like furniture, silver, jewelry, and art.

Drawing names is a great way to determine who starts the round robin, or you can easily go by birth order or other creative option for deciding who goes first. Then have each loved one choose an item off the “sentimental” list, then the “valuable” list, and so forth.

At the round robin’s completion, your loved ones have intentionally and thoughtfully selected your heirlooms. Then, you can decide what you give away now or what you intend to keep until you pass. Most importantly, you have a documented list indicating to whom all your sentimental and valuable items shall pass — as they deem fair.

Play Money

Another idea, according to Giles, is to give an equal amount of “play money” to each intended beneficiary. If necessary, you can hire an appraiser to value and price all of your assets. Each heir is then given the opportunity to “buy” items from the estate.

“If you want to downsize,” Giles says, “you can certainly make the transfer during your lifetime or keep track of the ‘purchases’ to reduce tension and make the transfers seamless after you’re gone.”

You can also have the satisfaction of knowing that heirlooms you hold dear will continue to be treasured by the next generation.

Include a Letter of Explanation in Your Will

Unless you have the good fortune of being part of the “perfect” family, your assets may not be divided equally — perhaps for good reason. It’s your right to divide your assets however you wish, but you can bet it may leave a sour taste in the mouth of whomever gets the short end of the stick.

To quell the hurt feelings, include a letter of explanation in your will. It can go a long way toward helping your loved ones understand your decisions. Maybe you’re giving less money and property to a more successful child so some of the less successful ones can turn their lives around. Whatever the reason — if you think an explanation is necessary, provide one.

“Most people say that they allocate money based on need and not love,” says Illinois-based attorney Evan Randall. “Obviously a disabled child requires more money in the long run in addition to possibly not being able to work. It gets harder when the needs are on the same level.”

Assign Assets and Let Loved Ones Swap Rights to Them

Nobody wants to contest a will, but siblings and other close family members often end up doing that if your will isn’t watertight.

Estate-planning attorney Ashley L. Case with Tiffany & Bosco in Phoenix, Arizona, offers a method to eliminate broken hearts and temper tantrums ahead of your death. It involves creating groups of items that you think are equal in monetary or sentimental value.

“Each heir could be assigned a group of items at random, which would represent the inheritance of the heir,” explains Case. “In the event that the heir was interested in an item belonging to another heir, the two can negotiate separately.”

This allows you to distribute your assets equally while lowering the chances your heirs will have to resort to litigation upon your death. Because, really, who wants to go to court to duke it out over a dead person’s stuff?

How to divide up family heirloomsAllocating your personal possessions can be one of the most difficult tasks when creating an estate plan. To avoid family feuds after you are gone, it is important to have a plan and make your wishes clear.

When passing on possessions to your heirs, savings and investments are easy to divide up, since they can be turned into cash. Real estate can also be turned into cash or co-owners can share it. The most difficult items to divvy up are personal possessions—silverware, dishes, artwork, furniture, tools, jewelry — items that are unique and don’t have a set resale value. In legal speak, these are known as “tangible personal property” and can become the focus of family fights. Often one or more children claim that a parent had promised them a particular item. Things may disappear from a house or an apartment shortly before or after a parent’s death, or a child may claim that her 90-year-old somewhat-demented mother “gave” her a cherished diamond ring during life. These types of situations can create great suspicion and irrevocably split families. Siblings may stop communicating due to their anger and distrust.

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Clarity about one’s wishes can go a long way toward avoiding these difficulties. Also, it’s important that the personal representative of an estate (also called an executor) secure the deceased person’s residence as soon as possible after death to make sure items don’t disappear. Here are a few steps you or the personal representative of your estate can take to make sure splitting up your stuff doesn’t split up your family:

  • List the most important or valuable items in your will. While your will could get very long if you tried to list all of your possessions, you may have a few family heirlooms or valuable artworks that you want to stay in the family. It may be easier for all concerned if you say who should get what. But talk with your children or other family members first to determine who values which items most.
  • Direct that certain items be sold. If you have one or more possessions that have much greater value than others, it can be difficult to make your distributions equal. It may make more sense to sell the items of greatest value and distribute the proceeds. For example, in a family whose parents were able to save one painting by a famous artist when they fled Europe during the Holocaust, the children sold the painting and split the proceeds equally, since it would not have been fair for any one of them to have received the painting and none had the resources to buy out the other two. The painting was auctioned at Christie’s and they were all quite happy with the results.
  • Write a memorandum. You can write a list of who should receive what item. If your will references the list, it will be enforceable. Be careful about how you describe each item so that there is no confusion. Unlike your will, this list can be as long as you like, and you can change it without having to go back and redo your will. Send a copy to your lawyer as well as any updates as they occur to ensure the list doesn’t get lost or ignored when the time comes.
  • Give everything away now. Well, perhaps not everything, but the more you disburse during life, the less that will have to be dealt with at death. When you make gifts, make sure that everyone knows about it so that the person receiving the gift is not suspected of having pilfered your jewelry box, for instance. There may be items that you would like to give away, but still want in your house. This is especially true of artwork and furniture. As long as the new owner is agreeable, you can keep these items around. You might want to tape a note to the back or underside explaining that the Rembrandt, for instance, belongs to your daughter, Jane. (Of course, if it is a Rembrandt, you will need to file a gift tax return and a transfer document.) Be aware that for highly-appreciated property, for tax reasons, it may be better not to make gifts during life because they’ll lose the step-up in basis. So check with your estate planning attorney or tax accountant first.
  • Get an appraisal. For the tax reasons referenced above and to guide you in deciding who should get what, it can be useful to know the monetary value of the items you’re giving away, whether during life or at death. This can also be very important for your personal representative and for your heirs in making their decisions.
  • Use a lottery. If you do not made choices regarding your estate plan, your personal representative may want to set up a lottery system for distributing the tangible assets. The representative can put names or numbers into a hat and someone can draw them out to determine the order in which the family members or other heirs will choose items. In order to inform the process, the personal representative should create a list of the most valuable items, including their appraisal value if one has been obtained. If everyone is in the same location at the same time, they can simply take turns. If that’s not possible, the personal representative can add pictures to the list to help identify the items and the beneficiaries can choose online, informing the personal representative of their choices as their turns come up. The order of who chooses can change each round, whether reversing or moving along progressively. Here’s the distinction between these two alternatives:

Reversing: 1,2,3,4,5; 5,4,3,2,1; 1,2,3,4,5
Progressive: 1,2,3,4,5; 2,3,4,5,1; 3,4,5,1,2

  • Bidding. A more complicated structure would be to provide all of the heirs the same number of tokens or points that they can use to bid on the various items. For instance, someone who really wants one painting or photo album more than anything else could put all the tokens on that. Someone who doesn’t care as much would bid fewer tokens. The complication in this approach is what happens after an item is gone. Certainly, anyone who used up his or her tokens “winning” an item in the first round is out, but can those who lost reallocate their tokens to other items? A variation on this theme would be for everyone to rank the items by preference. When there’s no competition, everyone who chose an item first would get that one. When more than one person chose an item as their first choice, they might draw straws, with those losing getting to choose again.

The more you decide who gets what rather than leaving the decisions to your family, the less likely the distribution process will create family strife.

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The Oma pan is a tiny aluminum saucepan. It’s probably something you could buy at a thrift store for a dollar. But it’s mine, and it used to be my grandmother’s, and I think of her every time I use it to scramble a few eggs or melt butter for baking.

When we think of heirlooms, we tend to think of things with monetary value — jewelry, china, silver, maybe art or furniture. But when we think of inexpensive, decades-old household items, we tend to think of them as clutter.

I must admit, I’m kind of obsessed with decluttering. I tend to get easily overwhelmed by mess when I have too much stuff, so decluttering gives me a sense of clarity and order. Fewer things mean fewer things to clean and put away. And at this stage of my life, with five busy people in my household, managing all our stuff is especially important.

Back when my 94-year-old Oma died, I’d just gotten married, and I was finishing up law school several states away. When it was time to divide up Oma’s belongings, my four siblings and I were tasked with choosing items in turn until no one wanted anything anymore. Since I was away, my mom stepped in to pick for me, guessing as best she could what I might like or need for myself or my apartment.

When I next arrived at my parents’ house, I had a mishmash of stuff waiting for me. A pretty tablecloth cross-stitched by my grandmother. A dented kitchen funnel. A great-aunt’s partial silver set. A few pieces of midcentury glassware. A Gilhoolie tool (Google it — they’re amazing). My grandmother’s favorite earrings. A great-uncle’s watercolor painting. A decorative silver (pewter?) plate from Germany. A large circular mirror in a not-my-taste gold frame. Maybe there were other things, things I immediately rejected as clutter. But I only remember these things, the things I did take. You’d think that would make them important. And yet they sat, mostly unused for one reason or another.

I’m afraid to wear the earrings. They seem a bit delicate, and they should probably have a checkup with a jeweler. The great-aunt’s silver rarely comes out, and neither does the hand-stitched tablecloth, as it doesn’t really fit properly on any of my tables.

The gold mirror followed me through three moves, shuffling between attics and storage rooms, before it finally found a home above my youngest child’s dresser. I repainted the frame in a soft lilac that matches my daughter’s bedroom decor. She and Oma never met one another, but they share a birthday separated by 105 years, a connection that my daughter savors. When the mirror once again hung on a wall, it was transformed from dusty attic life to thoughtful everyday use, and in that move, it finally transcended its intermediate years as clutter. And therein was the magic: It had become useful again. Now it has a new life, a new story interweaving with the old.

The designer William Morris famously said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” It’s as good a test for screening out clutter as any. All sentimental items are beautiful, I would argue, if they give us fond memories of loved ones. But what good are they if we never take them out, see them, use them? We’re neither using them nor enjoying their beauty.

That’s why I have a special fondness for everyday heirlooms. Because they’re not precious, we can feel free to use them all the time. Through these prosaic items, we spend our ordinary days in communion with the ordinary days that came before: ordinary childhood days when I’d wake up on the nubby living room couch after a sleepover at Oma and Opa’s apartment. The smell of French toast made from Oma’s homemade raisin bread coming from the kitchen, cooked on the gas stove that she lit with the boxed matches that always sat on the counter. There was a lot of cooking at her place, and while I don’t remember the Oma pan specifically — I tended to let her wait on me — using her cookware feels like a tangible connection to who she was, what she did for us, how we spent our time. Decades apart, our hands on the same tools, doing daily work — that’s both useful and beautiful, Mr. Morris.

I’ve always been fascinated with the everyday — the way people lived at home in other eras, seeing the home of a friend who’s moved (so I can picture them there when we talk), and even what my friends put in their grocery carts. I want to see people where they are when they are most themselves, and the material things of everyday life are a part of that.

It’s time I decluttered some neglected heirlooms — not by getting rid of them. No, I’m going to make them useful, which will save them from a life (a death?) in dusty storage. The earrings are going to the jeweler so I can wear them for the first time ever. My other grandma’s china will be coming out more often. The pretty glassware will go into more regular rotation.

Sure, there are risks. I may break these heirlooms or wear them out or even lose them. But, this much is certain — I won’t turn them into clutter.

Use these tips to avoid disputes over cherished family items.

by Heleigh Bostwick
updated October 07, 2020 · 2 min read

You’ve probably heard at least one horror story about adult children fighting over how to divide up possessions or whether to keep or sell those precious family heirlooms after their parents have died.

In most cases, t’s not the monetary value that fuels these family feuds, but the sentimental value of things like photographs, personal effects, or jewelry, and artwork.

Here’s what you can do to prevent family disputes regarding those precious family heirlooms handed down through the generations.

1. Write a Will

Writing a will is just one part of the estate planning process, albeit an important one. A will spells out who gets what property and assets—stating, for example, that possessions are to be divided equally among the children.

A will can be as specific or as general as you’d like. Still, unless you make a point to include detail about specific items, the wording can be fairly general and often may not specify exactly who gets what.

2. Have the Difficult Conversations Now

Most estate planning experts recommend gathering the entire family together while everyone is still alive and healthy and creating an inventory list of “special possessions,” with the heir’s name written next to it. This list can then become part of the estate planning documents—either the will or a revocable living trust.

An alternate method is to label each object or possession with the child’s name, using a sticker. Family members should bear in mind, however, that this method is not legally binding. That being said, this method of dividing up possessions is usually fairly effective for most siblings.

3. Appoint a Trustee or Executor

A trustee or executor manages and oversees the assets of the estate. The executor’s job is to settle the estate and communicate to heirs what is happening with the estate. It’s fairly straightforward unless, of course, there are disputes.

Typically the oldest child is chosen for this “job,” but an executor can be any trusted person who is a good mediator.

4. Add a “No-Contest Clause”

Some states allow you to insert a “No-Contest Clause” into your will or trust. This method is highly effective at discouraging family disputes because heirs who contest the will won’t be entitled to any part of the inheritance.

5. Plan to Sell at Auction

Some families opt to sell family heirlooms and other possessions at either a public or online auction. In both cases, all family possessions are up for auction, and children must bid on items they want to have.

Alternatively, family members can be given “credits,” using money they will inherit to purchase items so that they don’t have to use their own money.