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Solving the Inheritance Dilemma: How to Determine Who Gets the Family Treasures

By Dave Price September 05, 2017 Family

Who gets grandma’s yellow pie plate?

At first glance, this seems like such an innocuous query. However, the possible answers to such questions are sparking small inter-and-intra-generational conflicts all over the country.

As the elderly parents of Baby Boomers die or as aging Baby Boomers downsize or die themselves, there arises a huge issue. How do you best dispose of all the personal property, collections, and keepsakes that have been acquired over the decades?

In some cases, nobody wants grandma’s pie plate. Many of today’s younger generations have more mobile lifestyles or live in much smaller accommodations than their elders and truly don’t have room for such items. Then there are others who don’t attach the same sentimental value to certain items that their predecessors did and simply don’t want them.

Of course, sometimes the converse is true. Several family members may want Grandma’s well-used pie plate since they want to treasure it to remember grandma and all her loving greatness.

The problem has reached such proportions that the University of Minnesota Extension Service recently published a booklet entitled Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate? A Guide to Passing on Personal Property.

How Should We Distribute Personal Belongings After Someone Dies?

Earlier this summer, Megan Orenstein of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service talked to a highly-interested group at the Crystal City Connection Hub of the Arlington County Library about the main ideas presented in the guide.

Orenstein noted that many families are reluctant to talk about distribution since it obviously brings up the concept of death. However, the transfer of assets will happen and, if you don’t, the state will have a plan to dispose of your worldly possessions.

The Need for a Plan

The best way to handle the distribution is to have a plan designed by and agreed upon by all major family members involved.

If you are the person initiating the planning for your own possessions you need to begin thinking this way, Orenstein advises us to assess the real value of our possessions.

She suggests we identify the heart-string possessions and what will happen to them when we die. Who should decide how these possessions should be divided? Her advice is to take a very purposeful approach to this very emotional topic.

One other idea is to consider include your own personal definition of fairness. Should a financially struggling member get more monetary assets than his or her siblings or should everything be divided equally? Also ask yourself what you think is the best way of preserving the memories you believe should be preserved? Remember that, in the end, you are entitled to divide up your things in any way you choose.

But What If Someone Balks?

Sometimes, the family member in question doesn’t want to discuss the issue at all. They may say, “You’re already planning for my death.”

In this situation, you need to work slowly to help them understand the importance of planning. Instead, Orenstein says that you can begin by saying something like “I know this is uncomfortable, but I want to do this as an act of love for you.”

Information and Involvement Are the Keys

It is important for the family to share in the planning stage. However, you shouldn’t expect immediate results. This could be a couple of years’ process.

We tend to think in an all-or-nothing mentality which keeps us from thinking about other alternatives. Orenstein reminds us that people are going to react very differently and you must take the time to make it as comfortable for everyone.

Do you agree that division of personal property after death can be a problem? Do you have a story of how division of worldly possessions worked well after a death? Do you have a story where it didn’t work well? Do you have any advice for people who will undertake such a task? Feel free to join in our conversation.

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The Author

Dave Price is a retired journalist and educator now establishing a freelance writing/speaking/consulting practice in Atlanta, Georgia. He's specializing in four subjects - issues on aging, grandparenting, the Baby Boom generation, and classic rock music. In between writing articles, touring around with his wife of 4 decades, playing with his grandkids, dining on great regional food, and napping, he's working on a nonfiction book about the Baby Boomers and their relationship with music today. Please visit Dave's author page at https://writeonwithdaveprice.com and follow his classic rock news posts on Facebook and Twitter.

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