How to pass down your heirlooms without breaking up your family By Cecily Whiteside
ach family is unique, with its own history, lore and items of both sentimental and financial value. As one generation gives way to the next, some of these items become family heirlooms. The question is, how do you pass these items down without causing rifts in relationships, especially with large or confusing family trees filled with step children, cousins once removed and every other possible configuration? When my grandmother died, the division of her belongings fell largely along three lines, with my dad taking the things of sentimental value, my uncle taking the things of practical value and my aunt taking the things of monetary value. This worked well for them. All were satisfied with the division, and the perceived value each received was equal enough that there were few resentments. There are times, however, when siblings want the same things, or there are a few choice items—a
broach that has been in the family for 100 years, for instance, or great-grandma’s diamond ring. When one thing rises above the rest in perceived value, rifts can form and feuds can start. Can they be stopped? With communication and a written plan, the chances are good that families can weather the division of assets. “Putting a clause in a will or trust is the best way to address personal property,” said Shauna Clemmer, attorney at Brown & Brown, PC, an estate- and trust-planning firm in Grand Junction. “This is the best way to avoid confusion and possible litigation, as well as hard feelings among family members.” Ultimately, it’s up to the person who currently owns the items to make sure that those left behind don’t fight. The best way to do this is to make a will, being specific about individual bequests. “When you make your will,” said Clemmer, “state in the will that you are listing individual items separately, then follow through by itemizing
With communication and a written plan, the chances are good that families can weather the division of assets.
in another document. That way if you want to change the list at some point in the future, you don’t have to change your whole estate plan. And be specific, maybe even include a photo to avoid any question of what you mean.” Asking your kids for their thoughts on this is another way to prepare the whole family to divide things amicably. Tracy Constable has already asked her daughters about their preferences. “One of them said, ‘I want Grandma’s ring,’ and the other said, ‘Oh good, because I want Mom’s,’” Constable said. “I don’t think there will be any problem between my kids.” Ray Martino’s family is a bit more complicated, with several generations that include numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, plus almost a dozen grandkids. They have a family term for calling dibs on items. “‘Myrtling something’ means saying you want it,” Martino said. “It comes from my mom’s great-aunt Myrtle. When she liked something, she’d say, ‘I want that when you pass.’ It became a family joke that stuck.” But again the key is communication.
“We need to speak up about things we want, and parents can’t be afraid to acknowledge the fact that someday, sometime, they are going to die,” he said. Rich and Joan Liversidge have begun passing things on to children and grandchildren now. “We have downsized homes several times since we became empty nesters,” said Rich. “For a while we had a storage bin, but we emptied that out by giving heirlooms—mostly furniture, photos and antiques—to our kids.” As for me, I made a will along with a trust (since my kids are still minors), and I keep a running list. Each time one of my kids “myrtles” something, onto the list it goes. Everybody knows who is going to get what. I’m determined that any arguments that happen are going to happen while I’m alive to mediate—and ultimately to tell them how it’s going to be! This way, the relationships between my kids is determined by something besides who gets what when I’m gone. With a few hours of planning and some difficult but necessary discussions between family members, many of the heartaches of passing on heirlooms can be avoided. If you start early and communicate freely, there is no reason why passing on treasured family heirlooms will ever divide your loved ones. ■
Published on Mar 1, 2017