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Handling the Heirlooms – Part Two

Handling the Heirlooms 2

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 clearing out their family home and dispersing of the heirlooms and other possessions.  This may be because the idea seems overwhelming or because adults are hesitant to sort through another family member’s prized possessions.  In part one of this blog, we explained how parents make this process easier for their children by taking an inventory and either starting to distribute items themselves or memorializing their wishes in a Will or Letter of Instruction.  In part two, we share some advice for children who have the sole responsibility of handling the heirlooms.

PART TWO: Handling the Heirlooms – How Children Can Approach The Process

For children, the process of clearing out the family home comes with two different sets of responsibilities.  The first is to sort through and distribute all of the sentimental items or pieces that siblings and other heirs want to keep.  (Which may have its own set of challenges).  The second is figuring out what to do with everything that is left.  The available options are typically: sell, give away, donate, or trash.

If you are interested in selling some of the family property, you should first take an inventory of all of the substantial items (ex: furniture, art, rugs, silver, glassware, coins) and then have those items appraised by a certified appraiser.  Understand that antique dealers and even charity organizations are looking for what is popular right now, and price their stock accordingly.  Some of the most desirable items on the current market are mid-20th century furniture, good jewelry, high-end artwork, and quality Oriental rugs.  Also, it is important to give yourself plenty of time to find interested buyers for the family property, as you will earn more money that way, as opposed to trying to unload the items quickly.

Georgia-based estate sale business Family Matters Estate Services, LLC has some additional advice for children who are just beginning the process of clearing out their parents’ home and getting property together for an estate sale.  The company recommends starting as soon as you can and involving as many family members as possible.  This way, you do not feel rushed right off the bat, and you have plenty of people to help divide and conquer the house.  Family Matters also advises that in order to sell an heirloom, children must separate the object from the memory they associate with that object: “we have learned that possessions are not just things.  They represent people, dreams, investments, and often a lifetime of memories.  That is why it is so often so hard to let go of them.”

According to Family Matters, the hottest selling pieces at their estate sales are sterling silver, clothing from the 1950s-1960s, and mid-20th-century furniture.  Chests, high-end kitchen equipment, large bedframes, and patio furniture are also solid sellers.  The company does add this caveat, however: while the items may be popular right now, they still have to be priced realistically and based on the current market.  Some of the more difficult items to sell are linens, china, medium-to-low quality art, dining rooms sets, and “brown furniture” (sentiments echoed in the recent Next Avenue article Sorry, no one wants your parents’ stuff).

If you do not know what to do with the family’s heirlooms, and you are not comfortable selling the pieces, Family Matters suggests donating them to a museum, school, or state archive.  Relics of historical interest and value (ex: portraits, letters, furniture) can be put on display for the public to view and enjoy – rather than one person keeping the heirlooms in storage: “We should be keepers of history, not hoarders of it!”

A positive transition between families and heirs involves good legacy planning, whether that be through purposeful downsizing, memorializing wishes in estate documents, or by structured dispersion.  Legacy planning can help heirs avoid the expense of extra mortgages and storage fees, and the stress associated with clearing out a house full of family treasures.  For more information about estate planning, contact Siedentopf Law via our website or call us today at (404) 736 – 6066.

© 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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