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List: Posted: 10/03/11
Although we would all like to think that material goods are not as valuable as relationships, there are plenty of examples of a family heirloom leading to serious fractures in our family relationships, sometimes to the extent where a small claims court or a lawyer must be brought in to settle the dispute.
So, how can you go about choosing who gets a specific family heirloom or collection of prized goods, and still prevent hurt feelings and strife? It requires that you ask yourself a few serious questions, and these are all going to involve the proverbial “who, what, where and when?”
The 'Who' in the Family Heirloom Equation
There are a few times you’ll ask yourself “who” when thinking about any family heirloom. The answers to these questions tend to be the most relevant and the most useful in figuring out who gets an item.
For instance, “where did this come from?” This is a good way to begin to determine whether something is indeed a family heirloom or not.
The item that comes from someone belonging to the family, but also from a few generations back is bound to be valuable and certainly to be considered a prized possession within a family, regardless of it's financial value (which is very often zero dollars). The item from an aunt or uncle in a single generation before may only have sentimental value, but that doesn’t mean it is any less of an heirloom, particularly if it is a rare or valuable item.
The next “who” in the equation then is, who should receive this item? This too is a difficult issue, but the main focus is the family part of the equation. This means that if the item is indeed from an actual blood relation, it is best to ensure that it goes to another blood relation.
So, the set of china from a grandparent may be wanted by both a granddaughter and a daughter-in-law, but it should be the blood relation who receives it. Be sure, however, that the blood relation really is the person who wants it the most. Sometimes someone is being polite and saying that they’d like an item because it was offered to them or because they feel it was expected. This tends to be a reason that they would say they’d like to receive an item, but it does help to clarify.
The Family Heirloom Solution
So, we’ve considered the who and what, but what about the “when”? This is really up to the owner of the item to decide. Should you wait until you pass away and put each of these items in your will, or should you let people take the things they desire long before?
A lot of families actually have their heirloom items distributed among those who want them when the owner begins to transition into their later years. For instance, when a set of grandparents is moving into a retirement property, they will choose that time to give some of the most precious heirlooms to their family members. This gives them the joy of seeing the item being appreciated and used while they are still alive to enjoy this.
Another solution to the dilemma is to wait until after death to have family members receive their inheritance. This is done through an attorney-prepared will and is the most common approach to the way family heirlooms are managed.
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