“How to Divvy Up the Inheritance and Keep the Family Together” offers tips on how families can handle the distribution of tangible items that have intangible value. Relatives will want cash, land, and valuable jewelry but they will also want tchotchkes, mementos, cheap furniture, and pictures too. And the emotions attached to these items with little market value are just as strong as those associated with cold, hard cash.
Some people are reluctant to discuss such matters and imagine that their heirs will figure it out. Emotions run high after a death in the family and long-simmering resentments may surface. Heirs may fight bitterly over objects attached to memories. In some cases, an heir or heirs will remove items from a family home before other family members have chance to get to them.
One common practice is to just start giving items away to your heirs over time so that before you are gone, many things already have a home elsewhere.
Estate planners, lawyers, and financial planners suggest having a family meeting to discuss how you plan to distribute your assets (both money and objects). You can lay out your plans and address any concerns but also let your heirs know that the plans will be in writing and included with your will and other estate documents.
This article was prompted by an earlier one in which the writer suggested creating a “Big Book” that would inform your heirs where to find your estate planning documents and various objects they may want. A reader wrote in to say that his parents held an auction—inviting their kids to use Monopoly money as they bid on household items and knickknacks. While this family’s process was relatively peaceful, the reader did admit that things got tense at least once since one sibling tried to artificially inflate the value of an item to ruffle the feathers of another. Recently when the father of the family died, his children gathered to remember the auction fondly.
Whether your family distribution is on the fun side like the auction or a little more serious in tone, take the time to divvy up your belongings as well as your money rather than leaving it all up to your heirs.