How to Divvy Up Your Family Belongings Peacefully and Sensibly
What is the best way to distribute my personal possessions to my children after I pass away without causing hard feelings or conflict? I own valuable jewelry, art, family heirlooms and antique furniture and, unfortunately, my three adult children do not always see eye-to-eye.
Divvying up personal possessions among adult children or other loved ones can often be a difficult task. Deciding who should get what without showing favoritism, hurting someone's feelings or causing a feud can be difficult. This is true even for close-knit families who enter the process with the best of intentions. Here are a few tips to consider that may help you decide the best way to divide your possessions with minimal conflict.
First, you need to be aware that often it is the small, simple items of little monetary value that may cause the most conflict. This is because the value we attach to small personal possessions is usually sentimental or emotional, and because the simple items are the things that most families fail to talk about.
Family battles can also escalate over whether things are being divided fairly based on the items' monetary value. To assure fair distribution, you may want to consider getting an appraisal for items of higher value like your jewelry, antiques and art. To locate an appraiser, see Appraisers.org or AppraisersAssociation.org.
Ways to Divvy
The best solution for passing along your personal possessions is for you to go through your house with your children either separately or all together. Open up cabinets, drawers, closets and boxes to find out which items they would like to inherit and why. You may be unaware of certain emotional attachments that your children have with items in your home. If more than one child wants the same thing, you will have the ultimate say.
You will need to make a signed and dated list describing who will receive which items. Then you will want to reference this list in your will. You can revise this list at any time. You may want to consider writing a letter or creating an audio or video recording that further explains your intentions.
You can also specify a strategy for divvying up the rest of your property. Here are some methods that are fair and reasonable:
Take turns choosing: Use a round-robin process where your children take turns choosing the items they would like to have. If who goes first becomes an issue, they can always flip a coin, draw straws or roll dice. Also, to help simplify things, break down the dividing process room-by-room, versus tackling the entire house. To keep track of who gets what, either make a list or use adhesive dots with a color assigned to each person to tag the item.
Have a family auction: Give each person involved the same amount of play money, or they can use virtual points or poker chips to bid on the items they want.
For more ideas, see "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?" at YellowPiePlate.umn.edu. This is a resource created by the University of Minnesota Extension Service that gives pointers to help families discuss property distribution and lists important factors to keep in mind that can help avoid conflict. You can also purchase a detailed workbook, interactive CD or DVD on the University of Minnesota Extension Service's website.
It is very important that you discuss your plans in advance with your children so they know what to expect. You may even want to start giving them some of these items now, instead of distributing everything through your will or trust.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.