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Passing on the family heirlooms without family drama

Posted by Joshua Gunsher, Esq. | Jan 01, 2024 | 0 Comments

When people make their estate plans, they often think that it's the house, the investments or the cars that have the biggest potential to cause family conflict. 

In reality, it's probably the small things – family keepsakes and treasured heirlooms – that can create the most strife. A lot of people simply can't get over it if they feel like they were wrongfully cheated out of something that has deep emotional value to them (even if the monetary value is negligible).  

How do you divide those kinds of things up between your beneficiaries and heirs? Here are some tips:

1. Talk to your heirs about what they want.

Don't assume that you know how your children feel about the small things and personal items you want to pass on. You may think it's your diamond ring or watch that they want when it's actually your old desk that holds the most sentimental value to them. By the same token, you may think that your heirs will cherish your grandmother's silverware the same way that you do – only to find out that it doesn't resonate with them at all.

Open communication with your family members can allow you to create a comprehensive “wish list” where your family heirlooms are concerned. If you're lucky, nobody will want the same things, and that will make dividing things up in your will quite easy.

2. Use a systematic approach when there are conflicts.

Do both of your children want the same heirlooms? If they cannot agree on how things should be divided, consider rotating selections (where each heir takes turns choosing what they want until everything is claimed).

This forces your heirs to prioritize their wants and can sometimes be the only fair solution. Just keep an eye on the actual monetary value of the items in question. Particularly valuable items should be separated from the largely sentimental pieces and allotted more deliberately.

3. Document your decisions for the future.

Once you've made some decisions about how things should be divided, don't forget to write everything down. All your efforts at keeping the family peace can be wasted if you don't have things documented in your will.

Remember that the process of dividing family heirlooms requires empathy and understanding. By approaching the situation with sensitivity (and some experienced legal guidance) you can make certain that your passing doesn't evolve into a family feud.

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