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Handling the Heirlooms – Part One

Handling the Heirlooms 1

Summary: In Siedentopf Law’s two-part blog, we take a closer look at how parents can make the distribution process easier for their children, and alternatively, what children can expect when it falls on them to clear out their parents’ house.

Many adults are unprepared to take charge of the family heirlooms.  This is because the idea of cleaning out a relative’s home feels daunting, or because they are unwilling to sort through a family member’s prized possessions.  These trepidations may have been inadvertently amplified by the recent Next Avenue article “Sorry, no one wants your parents’ stuff,” in which the authors expressed: “Nobody wants the prized possessions of your parents – not even you or your kids.”  They went on to label traditional dining room and bedroom furniture as “brown pieces” and “furniture non-grata” in the current market.

If re-sale values have changed so drastically, and once-treasured items have now become unwanted tchotchkes, how does this change the way that families dispose of their estates?  In our two-part blog, we take a closer look at how parents can make the distribution process easier for their children, and alternatively, what children can expect when it falls on them to clear out their parents’ house.

Handling the Heirlooms Part One: What Parents Can Do To Ease The Process

The first thing that parents can do is to take stock of all of their major possessions (ex: furniture, china, crystal, silver, jewelry, artwork, collectibles) and figure out what they want to do with them.  Some may decide to begin downsizing by selling certain items or giving them to friends and family.  Older parents should understand that their adult children may not necessarily want these items, or have space for them.  According to Next Avenue, “This [younger generation] is an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally… They don’t have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did… And they’re more mobile. So they don’t want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move.”

Younger generations may be more focused on living minimally, but that does not mean that they are completely lacking in sentimentality.  Parents can generate children’s interest in their possessions by explaining why they are passionate about a certain item or collection.  They can explain why children might to hold onto certain items because of their connection to family history.

Once parents decide what they want to do with their possessions, they can communicate those wishes directly to their children.  Or, they can memorialize their decisions in a Will and Letter of Instruction.  A Will functions in estate planning by preserving on paper your preferences for how you would like your property handled after you pass away.  A Will can be coupled with a Letter of Instruction, which is an informal document providing specific instructions to your heirs and/or the executor of your estate.  Parents can use a Letter of Instruction to identify important personal items and name the person who will inherit them. (Which may save sibling arguments in the future).  Or, the Letter of Instruction could contain details about how the parent would like certain items to be disposed of (ex: donated, sold, etc.).  While a Letter of Instruction is not a legally binding document, it can be a powerful tool in estate planning and streamline the distribution process.  Also, it can help heirs avoid the stress or guilt often associated with cleaning out a relative’s home.

For more information about estate planning and Letters of Instruction, contact Siedentopf Law via our website or call us today at (404) 736 – 6066.  For part two of this blog – click here!

© Sarah Siedentopf and Siedentopf Law, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Siedentopf Law and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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