Discussion might ease transfer of family heirlooms
Deciding who gets Grandma's pie plate or Dad's collection of fishing gear might seem minor and easy as family decisions go. In reality, decisions about personal belongings can be extremely difficult and become significant challenges for families to face.
These belongings might not have financial value, but they often have a great deal of sentimental or emotional value. Decisions about personal property involve dealing with the emotions connected to objects accumulated during a lifetime or across generations. It is often the emotional value attached to personal belongings that make talking about them so challenging.
Paring down and transferring personal property is inevitable when owners move or die. While many people have a will or estate plan to deal with their titled property, few people plan ahead regarding what should happen to the items in their household.
Personal belongings such as holiday decorations, jewelry, stamp collections, furniture, photo albums, quilts or sports equipment are referred to as non-titled property. This means there is no legal document (such as a title) to indicate who officially owns the item.
Decisions about non-titled property are not often made during ideal circumstances. Frequently, these decisions are made in times of transition, such as remarriage or down-sizing, or during a family crisis such as when a death has occurred or when an elderly family member is moving to a health care facility. Decision-making becomes more challenging and sensitive when family members are in the process of grieving a death, selling the home they grew up in, or facing the increasing dependence of an elder. While not easy, decisions about the transfer of personal property can be a time to reminisce, share memories or work through the grieving process together.
There is no magic formula or solution available for transferring personal property because each family and their possessions are different. However, the Extension program "Who Get's Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?" suggests there are some factors for every family to consider whether planning for the transfer an individual's own personal property or working together to plan the transfer of items belonging to a family member. Critical factors to consider at this time are to:
* Understand the sensitivity of the issue for both owner and heirs.
* Determine what you want to accomplish in the transfer process.
* Decide what is "fair" in your family.
* Recognize belongings have different meanings for different people.
* Explore distribution options and consequences.
* Agree to manage conflicts if they arise.
Property owners have the legal right to decide when and how to transfer their non-titled property. When decisions are made prior to death, it allows the owner to consider the wishes of recipients and watch family members enjoy the items. Special memories and family stories might be shared with the recipients at the time the item is given.
When decisions must be made after a death, they might not accurately reflect the wishes of the owner. Additionally, very often more than one person wants, feels entitled to or feels they have been promised the same item.
Decisions about the transfer of personal property are often frustrating because of different values and perceptions of what is "fair." For some families, this can create real conflict. Disputes about inheritance might be the "last straw" that causes siblings to break off relationships with each other.
Transferring non-titled personal property, such as Grandma's yellow pie plate and Uncle Harry's gold watch, will take time as well as physical and emotional energy. Making these kinds of decisions is never easy. There are sure to be different assumptions, questions and opinions on how the process should be handled. The holiday season might be a good time to begin conversations about family belongings. More communication among the people involved will make arrangements smoother with less conflict.
For more information about the Extension program "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?" or to schedule a presentation for your group or club, contact the Ellis County Extension office at (785) 628-9430.
Linda K. Beech is Ellis County
Extension agent for family and