The Quandary of Inherited Heirlooms: Start the Discussion Now
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Back in our parents' days, picking out your set of good china was a foregone conclusion. Many of our generation took a pass, and millennials may not even own plates; forget the china. It's a struggle as aging people downsize to get rid of the things they hold as sentimental, and for those who don't downsize, their heirs can find themselves with a ton of things that they don't want or need. Multiple households from second homes and divided marriages up the ante.

Both sides of the discussion are fraught with emotion. Parents are sad that things they saved for and cherished will probably be pitched. Children are stressed about what to do with entire households full of belongings, especially if they live in smaller spaces, as most of us in the City do. One cautionary tale tells of three years and five estate sales before all of the belongings were finally sold or disposed of. 

What's more, the "stuff" can also cause fights. One lawyer reported "In 25 years, I've seen more arguments over Tupperware, jewelry and guns than I have over money. Money's easy to divide."

Here are 5 tips:

  1. Start the conversation as soon as possible, and be prepared for it to be a long and ongoing one. Some people report that they have this conversation every time they go home for a visit. 
  2. Do it when you're all together. Find out who wants what now--you may even want to put names on things--to reduce any bickering down the road.
  3. Offer to help downsize. There are probably lots of things that could be gotten rid of now without a tear shed on either side, your parents just aren't doing it because it seems overwhelming or it's easier not to. A few hours here and there could save a lot of stress later.
  4. Talk about what things are worth. Some items may have sentimental value but no monetary value. Other things, especially special interests like art, may carry lots of value that you're not even aware of, which would dictate how you deal with these belongings. 
  5. Weigh your time versus what it's worth. You have a few different avenues: Posting items to Craigslist and selling them yourself, in which case you will get all the proceeds; donating items to charities, which is also a tax writeoff; hiring an estate sale company to take care of the sales, in which case they will take a cut of between 30-50% of gross sales and can provide or connect you with other services for a fee; or calling a company like 1-800-Got-Junk to just come to you and haul it all away for a fixed price.

Source: New York Times

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