Family Conflicts Over Family Treasures
people think that family arguments about estate issues are over
big items. In fact, most of the time the fights are over small
items, such as family keepsakes because they evoke memories
of happier times.
For example, upon her death, a client's two adult children fought
continuously over an old '78 record collection. In the heat
of battle, in front of a probate judge, the son lost control
and decided to settle the dispute by breaking several of the
records in half and giving his sister one half and he the other
half. Thus, he destroyed part of the collection each desperately
wanted. The real tragedy was that the family relationship was
The potential for confrontations can be avoided or minimized
by making decisions about family treasures in advance.
One client told family members, after giving them color-coded
stickers, to apply stickers underneath items they treasured.
The problem was that family members, over time, started replacing
others' stickers with their own. The post-funeral reception,
where family antd friends are supposed to comfort each other,
turned out to be great material for a National Lampoon movie.
Here are a few: steps to help you decide who gets what and avoid
a conversation. Children often avoid bringing up the subject
of death. By making a request that family members communicate
their interests in specific items and reasons for wanting
them, you can decide based on their reasons how items should
be distributed. You'll be surprised at the items requested
--some may be worthless monetarily but invaluable emotionally.
-If-you anticipate a conflict over an item, you have an even
greater incentive to direct its transfer before you die, thereby
reducing the chance of a rift ,in the family.. Emotions can
run high with the death of a loved one.
what is fair. Should the distribution of items be based on
monetary value? Should gifts be returned to the givers? Keep
in mind that some gifts cannot be divided equally. Do you
want "equitable" or "equal"? Should birth order, special needs,
marital status or other factors be considered?
methods of distributing property. Some people gift items on
special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, graduations,
etc., during their lifetime. Others direct the method of distribution
in a legal memorandum attached to their will. The only way
to ensure that a family member receives a specific item is
to direct that distribution during one's lifetime.
that some items may have special significance to someone,
and something that means a great deal to you may mean nothing
to someone else. No one may want your collection of matchbooks,
but everyone may want the family photo album.
a list of items and who will receive each one. Then discuss
your choices with your family so that there will be no surprises
your instructions and state in the document that your goals
are in making these transfers of personal property. For example,
you may want to ensure that family members are still talking
after distribution, that items not wanted be donated to your
favorite charity or sold and proceeds go to a named charity,
that family members cooperate and adhere to your wishes, etc.
Some people don't want their things on pubic display in an estate
By recognizing the sensitivity of this task and the emotional
strain on your family, you can avoid additional trauma by simply
taking care of this problem in advance. Your family will be
grateful for your thoughtfulness.