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Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

What are some good practices for preventing family feuds when it comes to dividing up a relative's belongings when they pass away?

Asked by Pied_Pfeffer (22228 points ) June 14th, 2012

Mom recently moved into an independent living center. Her large house, which has a fair amount of items that have either monetary or sentimental value to family members, will probably be sold within the next year. What belongings she hasn’t taken with her will either be divvied up by family members or sold.

Our parents always felt strongly that items should be divided up evenly. While this is agreed upon by their children, there are some foreseeable challenges in the near future.

1. Out of the four children, there is only one son. He has a son, and I can see him playing the ‘carrying on the name’ card when it comes to selecting certain family heirlooms. He has already taken Dad’s guns, including a Luger Dad brought back from WWII.

2. One of the siblings passed away several years ago. She has three young adult daughters. Mom has addressed in her will that they get ¼th of the monetary share of her estate when she dies. Should they be included in the selection process of divvying up the belongings?

3. I am the only one without children. There are a few family heirlooms that I would like to have, but fear that there may be resistance from the others, even if the SO and I promise to return them to my family upon my death (if anyone wants them).

What tips do you have for preparing for this type of situation? I want to keep this as amicable as possible.

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17 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

This should’ve been taken care of already with paper work. Good luck trying to control that situation, as it’s going to chaos no matter what you do. That is what the legal documents are for: to keep people in check.

DrBill's avatar

we took care of this by selling everything at auction and dividing the money

blueiiznh's avatar

My Dad just passed in January. Today would have been his Birthday.
What worked for me was to not get wrapped up n that process. I have 4 siblings, live 1400 miles away and did not get involved with it. My Mother asked me if there was anything I wanted and I simply stated “I would like one of his hammers”. It was the sentiment value of what it meant as opposed to the $ value. The rest really does not matter. I have my memories.

anartist's avatar

The best preparation is already too late, for parents to earmark certain things or give them away before death or incapacitation. Perhaps your mother could still aid in this process. The next best is [I hope you are all close] to get together [3 remaining sibs] and discuss what means the most to you and see if you can agree. Children of deceased sibling could be offered some heirloom mementos if desired but the attachments may not be as strong. What about jewelry? My mother gradually gave pieces to her daughters over the years and had given it all away before she died. The economic value is much easier to sort out than the emotional value. Some family members don’t give a fig about antiques and such, just want the cash.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

You’re screwed..

AmWiser's avatar

Make a list of what is in the house and than sit down with your Mom now and another relative (as witness) and have her tell you what she wants to go to who. Also @DrBill has one of the best ideas…sell everything at auction and divide the money. The auctions I have been to that sold parents estates, the relatives were able to bid on items as well. Good luck!

chyna's avatar

I just went through this last year. Only one of my brothers has a son and that came up also. The son is extremely responsible, so I didn’t mind letting him have the medals and other “guy” stuff that really should be passed down. I let my three brothers choose the items they wanted from my moms house. I didn’t have anything that I had to have, but they made sure every item was okay with me first. The grandkids got to come in and choose items they wanted and they were all very careful about choosing things. Then I was left with so much “stuff”. I donated all of my mom’s clothes to Goodwill and all the glassware, nick knacks etc. were donated to a church that outfits peoples homes that have nothing. My SIL took all the Christmas ornaments and is giving the great grand kids an ornament a year so that they remember their great grandma. The only issues we ever had was over the money. Trust me, there wasn’t much, but my oldest brother called me daily about when we would be dividing the checking and savings accounts and receiving the life insurance. He was on my last nerve, but once the money was divided, everyone chilled. It’s a bad time all the way around and knowing what to do is hard. There was one incidence of one brother grabbing a jacket he thought was my dads from his days in the service. Me and another brother knew it was something the one brother had picked up at a yard sale. We let the other brother believe he had a jacket of dad’s and he even put it in a glass shrine. It gives us a good laugh every now and then. We will never tell.

chyna's avatar

@blueiiznh {{{Hugs}}} I have my dads hammer too.

anartist's avatar

I have my dad’s WWII ID bracelet [not standard issue, but a silver one with his GI number on the back that his mother gave him] and my grandfather’s early elegant gillette razor in a plush case [works fine] as well as some of my mom’s jewelry and various family antiques that fit in a small condo [and photos and books]

blueiiznh's avatar

Additional note:
as oldest son I have the flag and spent casings from the National Cemetary service. My Mom did hand those to me right after the service. I am unsre of protocol past my Mother keeping them, but I am glad I have those.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Blackberry Mom’s will is clear about addressing the division of her estate. She has also have several discussions with us throughout the years on what we would like to have and keeps a list updated. The challenge is more with the sentimental items that really have no monetary value.

@DrBill Yes, that would be the easiest solution in the end. It isn’t going to happen though, at least for some of the items. Plus, the eight grandchildren are just out of their nests, so some of the unwanted furniture will be handy.

@blueiiznh I am so sorry about your loss. Like you, I want to not be concerned about this, and would bow out graciously if it were not for the others. I want to make sure that this is fair for my sister’s children and that my brother doesn’t take liberties. I have Dad’s hats. It might be my imagination, but I can still smell his hair tonic in them even 20 years after his death.

@anartist Yes, we are close, and we’ve already had discussions around certain items. Many of them were orchestrated by Mom.

@Adirondackwannabe I hope not. That’s why I’d like tips on how to head it off before it reaches that point.

@chyna Thank you so much for the specifics. You hit the nail on the head with “asking the others first.” When the brother took Dad’s guns without permission, it really irritated me. It’s not that I had any interest in them, but my sisters might have been.

woodcutter's avatar

I’ts an emotional time and the survivors are going to want stuff they have no real interest in, just to have it, sort of like a kid that demands something they had no interest in before but knowing a sibling would like it makes it even more desirable to them. My wife had to handle her mother’‘s affairs because her mom chose her in advance because of her level headedness, ( she knew her own kids). She had a shitstorm on her hands because we lived out of state the daughter who lived in the same city picked through her stuff almost before the body was cold. Now thats pretty shitty but that’s what can happen. I don’t envy the executor of any estate if they’re not a lawyer..

creative1's avatar

I never worry about getting anything from the death of a relative because I have all the memories of time spent with them. The way I look at is that material things are just things but the memories of them will last a lifetime.

@blueiiznh My sister has the flag from my great uncle’s funeral my aunt gave it to her because they were never able to have children of their own and she was their goddaughter. My sister had it put into a flag case and had a little plaque made for it with this name on it. She has it mounted on her wall.

jazmina88's avatar

Get the material posessions taken care of with more conversations. My Mom, still living, put stickers with folks names on them.

Now, when my aunt passed, she specified if 2 or more people want the same thing, straws should be drawn. However, my sister bullied me and I did not get the opportunity to draw a straw. I cringe when I think if my Mom’s estate settling.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Update: Mom was just moved from an independent living site into an assisted living one. Same community; different building. I talked to her yesterday, and she doesn’t realize that she moved. She thinks that she is still in the same apartment.

The perspective of we three siblings is starting to get heated. I never suspected it would come to this point. We will all be together in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, it can be worked out at that point.

chyna's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer This whole time is going to be difficult. Even the smallest things are going to piss you off, get on your nerves, etc. Make sure to make time for yourself and to clear your mind when you are able to.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Thanks for the sound advice @chyna. It is hard not becoming an enabler while there. The visits are only temporary, although the previous one lasted three months. My two escapes were walking with her elderly friend in the morning and calling an aunt in the evening for a good dose of reality.

It’s a strain for all of us, since none live close by. We just want what is best for her. Now, it’s just a matter of communicating as a team and not as individuals. That’s the real challenge.

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