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Who Gets What? Dividing Possessions Before Death
Who should have grandma's dining room table or diamond ring? How should family photos be distributed? Dividing up heirlooms can be a touchy subject. If you leave the decision until after you die, your children may end up fighting over possessions. If your will divides up belongings without an explanation as to why one child gets one thing and another child gets something else, your children could end up with hurt feelings. To avoid these scenarios, plan ahead and talk it over with your children (or other heirs). By bringing them in to the conversation, you can make things easier for them later.
Every family handles the division of assets differently and you need to figure out what will work best for your family. Some families want heirlooms to be divided equally; others feel that one child may need a little extra. The important thing is to discuss it with your children so they understand the decision-making process.
These discussions are also a good opportunity to share memories and stories about the heirlooms. You get the opportunity to explain why something may be important to you, and you can find out what items are important to your children. You may think your oldest daughter wants your tea set, only to discover that the tea set has no meaning to her and she really wants grandma's quilt.
There are several ways to divide things. One option is for you to pick who gets what. If you do this, take into account your children's interests. Don't leave a piano to a child who isn't interested in music. Another option is to ask your children what they want. If there are items that more than one person wants, you can all sit down to discuss a solution. Alternatively, you can do a round robin, where each child gets a turn picking something. It might help to separate sentimental items from valuable items and ask your children to choose items off of each list.
Once you have decided where each item is going, make a list and keep it in a safe place with your other estate planning documents. You may also want to send the list to your attorney. If you end up giving away items off the list before you die, be sure to update the list, so there isn't any confusion.
The Univeristy of Minnesota Extension Service has developed a number of educational resources to help families make more informed decisions about passing along personal belongings. For more information, click here.
If serious problems develop while trying to divide possessions, a mediator may help you resolve the issues. For more on mediation, click here.