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Avoid Fights when Dividing Personal Possessions

Who should get the old dining room table that came from Grandma’s house? Who should get mom’s diamond ring? What about those Civil War relics from Grandpa’s side of the family? What about the family photos?

Dividing up family heirlooms can be a touchy subject. If you leave the decision until after you die, your children may end up fighting over simple personal possessions. Most of the Wills I write for clients say to split the assets equally among the children. That will be easy for the cash, stocks and bonds, but not so easy for the stuff.

In many families, the actual division is handled by the children, and done with fairness. In other families, the little things cause no end of trouble. Years of bitter feelings can come from the thoughtless actions of one child after the parents are gone. To avoid these problems, you should plan ahead and talk things over with your family. By bringing children and others in to the conversation, you can make things easier for them later. Children need to actively participate in this discussion too. If you don’t like what your Mom has to say, then speak up, she might not know otherwise.

Every family handles the division of property differently and you need to figure out what will work best for your family. Some families want heirlooms to be divided equally; others feel that one child should have certain items. You can specify certain items in your Will, but it is hard to list every single thing. The family will have to reach some sort of arrangement for anything not specified in your Will. The most important thing is to discuss it with your children so they understand the how you feel. You should explain to them that you want the family to stay in harmony and not fight over mere physical objects.

These discussions are also a good opportunity to share memories and stories about the heirlooms. You get the opportunity to explain why something may be important to you, and you can find out what items are important to your children. You may think your oldest daughter wants your tea set, only to discover that it has no meaning to her and she really wants grandma’s quilt.

There are several ways families can divide things. One option is for you to pick who gets what and to specify it in your Will. But, you should consider your children’s interests. Don’t leave a piano to a child who isn’t interested in music. Another option is to ask your children what they want. If there are items that more than one person wants, you can all sit down to discuss a solution.

You could have the children do a “round robin,” where each gets a turn picking something. The kids might hold their own private auction and “buy” the assets they want. You can specify any of these ideas, or others, in your Will. But, it may be best to leave it up to your children, so they aren’t stuck with a system they don’t like. That means the best advice is to talk it out sometime soon. Nothing beats good communication for resolving issues before they become family feuds.