Marlene S. Stum, Extension Specialist and Professor — Family Social Science
Reviewed February 2012 by the author.
Almost everyone has personal belongings such as wedding photographs, a baseball glove, or a yellow pie plate that contain meaning for them and for other members of their family. What we've learned by listening to families and attorneys is that this "non-titled" personal property often creates the greatest challenges for families when estates are divided — not the money.
When doing estate planning, families too often talk about the house or the investments; and forget to plan ahead or discuss personal possessions. Do you know what items have special meaning or value in your family and why? Do you know how to get started to communicate and plan ahead?
What's Unique About Personal Possessions and Inheritance?
The sentimental meaning attached to personal possessions can make decisions more emotional. For example:
- Objects can be involved in the process of grieving and saying goodbye.
- Objects can be used to preserve memories, family history, and family rituals. The Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?™ Workbook resource, Worksheet 7: Use Your Belongings as Props for Telling Family Stories (PDF), can help you share your memories, history, and rituals.
Being fair is a complex process. Here's a couple of things to take into account:
- Personal belongings will have different value and meaning to each individual.
- It is difficult to measure the worth or value of personal property.
- It can be impossible to divide items equally.
Lastly, distribution methods for personal possessions and related consequences are not widely understood or known. A tool like the Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?™ Workbook can help guide you through a researched process so you minimize family conflict. Preview it today: Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?™ Workbook.
"Just before Anna Krueger was about to enter a nursing home at the age of 85, she held a family gathering to discuss who should get her personal belongings. With each of her four children gathered, Anna shared family history and stories that went with the important possessions in her life, wishes were expressed, and decisions made. When Anna died six months later, her children not only held onto her possessions, but they also cherished the stories of her life. By making inheritance decisions ahead of time, Anna also prevented disagreements about who should receive what items."
Families and Inheritance Project — Learn more about this research project, which seeks to understand the meaning and experience of fairness in the context of family inheritance decisions.
Communicating Under Pressure — During stressful times, it is easy to experience misunderstandings that sometimes result in adding more stress to the situation. Part of the Getting Through Tough Times series.