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Dividing up family heirlooms (without dividing the family)

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2022 | Estate Planning |

You’ve spent a lifetime building up your assets and your home is filled with curiosities, collections and family treasures.

When you’re making your estate plans, dividing up the bank accounts, insurance policies and investment accounts is usually pretty easy. Dividing up a houseful of mementos, however, can be quite hard.

How do you divide precious memories and heirlooms without creating rifts between your heirs? It may take a delicate approach, but here’s where to start:

  1. Ask for their input.

This may be hard to accept, but the vast majority of your mementos may have more emotional significance to you than your heirs. Even your watches and jewelry may not exactly be their style. If you ask them what they actually want willed to them, you may be surprised at what they do (and don’t) treasure.

If your heirs don’t have any overlap in their desires, you can will them each exactly what they want (or give them those items to enjoy while you’re still alive) and set the rest up for auction when you’re gone.

  1. Don’t be afraid to split collections.

Maybe both of your daughters would like to inherit your diamond earrings. You don’t want to show any favoritism, but you don’t want to have them sold as part of the estate, either.

One solution with items like these (and certain collections) is to divide them. You can make plans in your will to have one earring reset in a pendant or a ring for each daughter. That way, each child gets to treasure the item as a connection to you, and nobody needs to feel slighted.

  1. Decide on a fair way to divide things.

If your heirs do have quite a few wanted items in conflict, you can set the rules for how things will be divided early – and explain it to them, so they have time to adjust.

One popular method is having the kids pick a card or roll some dice to see who goes first. Then, each heir gets to pick one item out of the contested pile before it’s the next heir’s turn. This forces them to prioritize their wants and can be the fairest possible solution.

Good estate planning takes a lot of effort, but it’s worth it to know that you’re taking care of your heirs in the best way possible.