King Solomon was known for his wisdom and ability to make sound decisions. The most famous incident happened when two women came to him with a baby each woman claimed as her own. Solomon’s response was literally to divide the baby so that each woman could have half. This decision did not seem to bother the first woman, but the second woman begged the King to give the baby to the first woman, so the baby could live. Solomon then knew the second woman was the real mother and granted her the child. Will this approach work for families when they are in the midst of grief and making difficult decisions regarding their parents’ possessions?
The “divide and conquer” method is used most often, without knowing the values of estate items. Resentments and rivalries can and will stem from this method. One heir will feel that he or she got gypped. Heirs often begin the process of breaking down the estate and dividing the contents prematurely. First, know what you have and understand its current market value by hiring a personal property appraiser. Second, not all possessions can be divided, so Plan B must be ready to go.
Try to divide possessions equitably. But what if there is one item, say a $7,000 grandfather clock, that 5 children each want to have? As a personal property expert, I have seen two viable options work best.
First, when parents are still living, they should make the decision of who gets the clock. Let all heirs know what is your decision. To minimize some of the upset, if financially feasible, offer cash assets or other physical assets in the appraised amount of the clock to the other heirs. This decision may ruffle feathers, but you may have just prevented a lifelong rift between your children.
If you can’t bear the thought of choosing one heir for the clock, my suggestion might surprise you. Sell the clock and split the proceeds among your heirs. It is equitable, and no one has “the prize”, but all have equal cash assets.
We spend a lifetime collecting and caring for our favorite possessions. Shouldn’t we take the time to make a sound plan for passing them on to heirs? No material possession is worth ripping the family apart!
© 2010 Julie Hall