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Tuesday March 5, 2024

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Dividing Personal Possessions Without Dividing the Family

Do you have any suggestions on how to divide my personal possessions after I die without causing conflict? I want to leave my jewelry, art, family heirlooms and antique furniture to my children without hurting feelings.

Distributing personal possessions among children or other loved ones can often be a tricky task. Deciding who should get what without showing favoritism, hurting feelings or causing a feud can be difficult even for close-knit families who enter the process with the best intentions. Here are a few tips to consider to help in dividing your personal possessions with minimal conflict.

Sweating the Small Stuff


Sometimes, the small, simple items of little monetary value that are not mentioned in the estate plan that cause the most conflicts. This is because the value we attach to small personal possessions is usually sentimental or emotional and families often forget to talk about the simple items.

Family disputes can also escalate over whether things are being divided fairly by monetary value. For items of higher value, like jewelry, antiques and art, consider getting an appraisal to assure fair distribution. Search online to locate an appraiser in your area.

Dividing Fairly


The best solution for passing along personal possessions is to go through your house with your children or other heirs either separately or together to find out which items each person would like to inherit and why. They may have some emotional attachment to something. If more than one person wants the same thing, you will have to make the ultimate decision.

After talking with your heirs, make a list with a description of each item and who should receive it after you die. Depending on the laws in your state and the value of the items, it may be legally enforceable if you handwrite it on paper, sign and date it and your will or trust references the document. In these situations, you can revise it anytime you want. If the items have a high monetary value, speak with an estate planning attorney about including the list directly in your will or trust. You may also want to consider writing an additional letter or create an audio or video recording that further explains your intentions.

If you do not want to make a list, you may specify a strategy for dividing up the rest of your property. Here are some popular methods that are fair and reasonable:

Take turns choosing: Use a round-robin process where your heirs take turns choosing the items they would like to have. If who goes first becomes an issue, they can always flip a coin or draw straws. To simplify things, break down the dividing process room-by-room instead of tackling the entire house. To keep track of who gets what, make a list or use adhesive dots with a color assigned to each person to tag the item.

Have a family auction: Give each person involved the same amount of play money or use virtual points or poker chips to bid on the items they want. Assigning a value to each item will be necessary, thus having an appraisal of the items can aid this endeavor.

Use online resources: For families who want help or live far apart, there are online resources that can guide families through personal property distribution and important factors that can help avoid or manage conflict.

It is also very important to discuss your estate plans in advance with your heirs, so they know what to expect. Another option is to consider distributing some items now during life to help avoid conflict later on.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published March 1, 2024
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