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Distributing "stuff" to heirs
Old 10-28-2014, 04:46 PM   #1
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Distributing "stuff" to heirs

The recent thread on collectables got me thinking, once again about a related topic, distributing “stuff” to heirs, when dysfunction prevents them from dividing things among themselves in a way that is equatable and friendly.

Curious how other families have managed this. The “stuff”, mostly things collected over a lifetime, isn't particularly valuable financially, although some of the beneficiaries probably think otherwise. A few items have a market value, in total perhaps somewhere between $5K – $10K, mostly coins, sterling silverware and a few pieces of jewelry. A house full of other things – furniture, kitchen and dining room ware, clothes, knick-knacks – are usable, but are very difficult to assign real value. That is, in theory they might have $$ value but in practice it would be very difficult to turn them into money.

Everything is owned by a revocable trust. My thought is the trustee inventories the things that have a real market value, includes that value as part of the financial value of the estate, and counts that amount as part of any financial distribution. Everything else is available to anyone, as long as they are willing to come pick them up. Anything left after a couple of weeks goes to local NFP or gets tossed.

Some children and grandchildren live in the area, others live across the country. Some visit regularly and are involved, others completely MIA. Some of the furniture would be great for grandchildren starting out, but not many live nearby.

I'm wondering if anyone has seen or used an approach that minimizes the potential for disruption and ill-will.
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Old 10-28-2014, 04:56 PM   #2
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When MIL died BIL did an extensive inventory of her personal things. As I recall, the siblings essentially drew things in order then repeated until everything was gone or what remained wasn't things anyone wanted and the unwanted things went to the Salvation Army.
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Old 10-28-2014, 05:02 PM   #3
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Our situations are probably easier than most so my reply is probably of little value.

DW's Mom doesn't have much, so it shouldn't be an issue. The role of primary caregiver has fallen almost completely to one of her brothers (vs 4 other siblings who all moved away), and we're sure he's spent a lot of his own money supporting her. So when it comes to distributing stuff, our only interest is seeing as much go the caregiver brother as possible instead of the two family leeches. We don't want anything unless (sad to say) to keep it away from the latter and give the proceeds to the caregiver brother.

My side of the family, I guess we're fortunate in that my Dad has obsessively thoroughly inventoried their possessions in great detail and given my sister and I 3-ring notebooks identifying everything, and who gets what. They traveled their entire adult lives with the Army, so they have stuff from all over the world, some of it has turned out to be surprisingly valuable. He also set up a trust at least 10 years ago. He convenes a family meeting every time we're all together to review their wills. It's overdone, but we're grateful they've planned so well, beats the heck out of the alternative. They've even asked both of us what we want - neither of us much care about 'stuff' as we both started decluttering years ago. We both want a few things just to remind of us our parents, and the rest we plan to throw into an estate sale. My Dad keeps telling us how valuable everything is, probably overstated, but we don't really care. We've told them to sell the stuff off themselves, but they refuse even though most of it is been packed away in closets for decades.

In our wills we have the executor liquidate everything, pay him handsomely for the effort (executor is also the largest beneficiary), and then distribute all the remaining $ proceeds to those persons/charities named in stated percentages. Though we have some valuable stuff, we don't have kids so there shouldn't be any fighting over who gets what.

And if you've made it this far - finally the insight I'd offer that you probably really wanted to know. My still living parents have already given my sister and I the few things we identified that have sentimental value to us, neither of us chose the most valuable items. Likewise if we had kids, we'd plan to give them stuff well before we went poof to avoid or be present for any arguments. That doesn't help if we're hit by a bus, but hopefully we won't both die unexpectedly.

TMI I know, but you asked.
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Old 10-28-2014, 05:08 PM   #4
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I agree with Midpack. The only thing I got was my dad's ring, which I now wear proudly. The rest can go, and my parents took care of most of that. It's a favor to do for your children.
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Old 10-28-2014, 05:38 PM   #5
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The hotspots are likely to be jewelry and perhaps family photo albums. If there is a way to give those away equitably prior to death, that is going to be less stressful for those left to sort it out. Or having a list added to the will that describes individual items and their disposal.

I dread my parents' disposition of stuff! Lots of it, and I'm likely to get stuck with the large "white elephant" items.


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Old 10-28-2014, 05:43 PM   #6
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I dread my parents' disposition of stuff! Lots of it, and I'm likely to get stuck with the large "white elephant" items.
That's why my sister and I are planning on one big estate sale. We don't care about getting top dollar for anything, not even their house.
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Old 10-28-2014, 06:29 PM   #7
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That's why my sister and I are planning on one big estate sale. We don't care about getting top dollar for anything, not even their house.
Estate sale does have a certain appeal. It might make a good fallback plan, as in "you have a week to figure out what you want, or it all goes to an estate sale".

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The hotspots are likely to be jewelry and perhaps family photo albums. If there is a way to give those away equitably prior to death, that is going to be less stressful for those left to sort it out. Or having a list added to the will that describes individual items and their disposal.
Tons of photos. I've tried to catalog some and earmark, but no one wants to help or take delivery of anything right now. Jewelry - already an issue. As in, where's that xxx that she had on 14 years ago. Was it lost, or did you take it? Stolen? You need to protect her things better.

One thing I'd like to avoid, but am not sure how, is the "pick and choose". That is, "I want that one dish that's been in the family for generations, you deal with everything else". Or, "I'll take those 10 gold coins, you take care of the other thousand that really aren't worth anything. Make sure to get a good price, though". The killer phrase, which I've heard enough to make me ill - "You have time to do all this. You're retired."

There is no list or preassigned distribution. Over many years who know what conversations have taken place. It's too late for any discussion now, due to failing memory issues. The things I wanted, to preserve the memories and pass along the heritage, I asked for and got years ago.
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Old 10-28-2014, 06:47 PM   #8
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Oh, Michael, so much not fun in your story. I am sorry you are having to deal with this.
I asked for my grandmother's biscuit tin when she passed away. Broken handle and all. It is one of my favorite things. The rest of the family did some major squabbling and I was happy not to be a part of it.
Though yours is a thankless task for the most part, at least you can be at peace that you've done the best you can to honor wishes and keep the peace. And then try to let the criticism roll off your back. That's what I told my very unfortunate aunt who had to do these beastly chores for the grandparents' estate.


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Old 10-28-2014, 07:22 PM   #9
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I encourage everyone who will be leaving "stuff" in their estate that won't be distributed to also steer the executor to reliable and trustworthy options for liquidating it.

When the decedent recommends a source to liquidate something, beneficiaries are less likely to complain about what it brings and it takes a lot of pressure off the executor.

For example, a non-collector is hardly able to properly evaluate the value of a coin collection or how they can be sold effectively. I once knew a guy who used to run a coin shop (he's passed on now) and he bragged to me about a poor executor who brought in a gold coin to sell. The shop owner asked if he had shopped it around (he had). He asked what the best offer was - it was $3,000. The shop owner told the executor how lucky he was to come to HIS shop before it was too late, because the coin is worth much more and because he has a waiting buyer for such a coin, he will pay $8,000 cash on the spot if he can close the deal now before his buyer finds one somewhere else. The executor was ecstatic and took the $8,000.

Of course, the coin was worth $35,000. If the decedent had left some instructions for the executor regarding the ballpark value of the coin and where to take it, the executor would have probably gotten $30,000.
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Old 10-28-2014, 10:04 PM   #10
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A great subject.
Try this exercise: As the oldest child you are the executor.
The "heirs involved are you, and three other brothers or sisters.
The "stuff" includes:

A 2011 Buick
A grand piano
A small collection of Chinese Jade
A large number of power tools
Mikasa dinnerware for 12
An ermine stole
A chest of 1930's costume jewelry
A 2 carat diamond ring
A gold conductor's watch
4 pearl necklaces
A baseball card collection
Several unknown porcelain vases
and you get the idea...

So yes... you hire an estate liquidator to put a value on the items and the first thing he comes up with is a value of $1500 for the tools, which you know for sure are worth at least $4000. Your brother Chuck wants them anyway...
Mary wants the diamond but the appraisal price is $5000, though it would only be worth $2000 in the marketplace.

Then you do due diligence, and spend the time to go to the "expert" in each item category, and come up with a total value of $100,000, but no one of the heirs agrees with any of that.

You end up with an estate auction that nets $25,000 and now everyone hates you.

It would be nice to think that everyone would get together in a room, and pick one item at a time... but it doesn't work that way.

So instead... it's you.. before you die... and want to pass on your stuff... Like it or not, no matter how you try to be even in distributing this part of your wealth... For sure Millie is always going to feel hurt when Julie gets the diamond, and Charlie gets the house.

Have watched enough of these situations to believe that there aren't any good answers.
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Old 10-29-2014, 06:00 AM   #11
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It would be nice to think that everyone would get together in a room, and pick one item at a time... but it doesn't work that

./.

Have watched enough of these situations to believe that there aren't any good answers.
When siblings don't want to get along they won't, so I agree there are no good answers. That doesn't mean all the answers are equally bad. Perhaps it might make sense just to reach out now and ask if anyone wants anything specific, now or later.
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Old 10-29-2014, 07:36 AM   #12
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My in laws had a great idea; all small items not in the will, will be divided by lottery. 4 kids will draw a number between one and 4, then they'll pick from the available iterms. In laws will pre-assign anything worth over a grand.....everyone should think it fair.
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Old 10-29-2014, 09:08 AM   #13
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Another twist is for any items that are not immediately disposed of. Last remaining parent passed 8 years ago. He left the beneficiaries (three siblings and myself) a paid for lake cabin along with their possessions (this had been their retirement home). Now some siblings are wanting some possessions and say "dad promised us this". Who is to say that ever happened? Leaving a property to be shared creates a lot of other issues.
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Old 10-29-2014, 09:31 AM   #14
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My aunt lived with my grandmother her whole life, so when my grandmother died it was "easy"...everything stayed in the house with my aunt. The problem would come when my aunt died, so she did something smart, I think. Still having her faculties, she sent out a letter and asked people what they wanted. There was, of course, contention, and not everyone got what they wanted, but at least my aunt got to decide who got what. An improvement on the process would have been to send out the results before passing, just to put down any talk of whether "the locals" were taking liberties.
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Old 10-29-2014, 09:46 AM   #15
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DH and his sibs get along famously even after dividing up personal/household things in their late parents' estate. One reason imho was that we inlaws all stayed completely out of it, no opinions, no requests, nada, so they could focus on what they each thought was important and not consider their spouses. I don't think there were any hard feelings at all.

DH actually wanted more heirloomy stuff that he remembered in his grandparents' homes, all of which had been appraised years earlier and duly noted by the sib who was the executor, so the final division could be adjusted. Interestingly, after the estate auction which reaped mere pennies on the appraised dollar value of the remaining stuff, the sibs agreed to tear up the adjustment list and they all seem to be glad that someone in the fam wanted to keep things at all.
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Old 10-29-2014, 11:08 AM   #16
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One problem I have read about on forums is finding a trustworthy estate liquidator. Apparently after the recession many laid off people set up these kinds of businesses, with varying degrees of actual expertise and levels of honesty.

For big items, you'd probably reach a larger audience and get more money from a specific Craigslist ad with a picture and an asking price than estate sale. From what I have noticed from a shopper's point of view, I think generic estate sales tend to attract mostly resellers and bargain hunters. I saw three indoor herb growing stations, well Amazon advertises them for herbs anyway, in a pile of leftover junk at an estate sale last weekend. Those little indoor grow light and stand set ups sell for around $200 each new on Amazon. But the kinds of people who would pay $100 on eBay for the indoor plant growing equipment have more lucrative hobbies than going to estate sales.

I suspect collectibles would also sell for more on eBay or Etsy with an audience of 1M or so potential buyers and collectors looking for specific items instead of maybe the 30 - 200 eBay resellers and random people who have the free time to attend estate sales.

People buy from estate sales to sell on eBay so if you have the time anything valuable would probably sell for more going straight to eBay, or for heavy items CL.
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Old 10-29-2014, 11:18 AM   #17
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The hotspots are likely to be jewelry and perhaps family photo albums. If there is a way to give those away equitably prior to death, that is going to be less stressful for those left to sort it out.
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If there are several family photo albums that are likely to be an issue, I highly recommend purchasing a large format scanner (I bought Amazon.com: Mustek A3 1200S - High Speed A3 Large Format 11.7-inch x 16.5-inch Color Scanner: Electronics from Amazon, it's now under $200). The person who buys the scanner and scans the album gets to keep the original, everyone else gets a PDF or set of JPGs that they can either view online or print if they want.

I did this with a large album (45 sheets/90 pages) and it took me about two hours to scan and another hour or two to touch up/crop the scans. I went a bit further and created a book in Blurb to give to my sister along with the PDF. The printed book cost about $75 after a coupon. Well worth it to share the memories with my sister as well as preserve them should something horrible like a house fire happen. It turned out so well I'll probably buy 2 more copies from Blurb to give to our kids.
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Old 10-29-2014, 12:20 PM   #18
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Those little indoor grow light and stand set ups sell for around $200 each new on Amazon. But the kinds of people who would pay $100 on eBay for the indoor plant growing equipment have more lucrative hobbies than going to estate sales.
Awesome.


And MBAustin, you are right, scanning and creating a book is a great way to share those photos. I've used Blurb as well and been very happy with the results.
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Old 10-29-2014, 01:09 PM   #19
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.....It would be nice to think that everyone would get together in a room, and pick one item at a time... but it doesn't work that way.....

.....Have watched enough of these situations to believe that there aren't any good answers.
After witnessing our relatives literally ransack my Aunt's home a couple years ago after her passing (as in pulling drawers out of dressers and cabinets and dumping the contents on the floor, tipping over furniture, etc.), my Mom updated her will and created a Revocable Living Trust to help avoid any possibility of that happening when she passes.

As the executor and successor trustee, I will see to it that her wishes are carried out to a "T". One of those being that NO relatives, other than my siblings and myself, will be allowed to participate in the 'divvying up' of her possessions. And since all of her possessions are covered in her Will, Pour a Over Will, or Trust, and only direct, immediate family members are allowed on the premises, there shouldn't be too much squabbling over her 'stuff'. There is a lot of old stuff, yet extremely few antiques.....pretty much if it wasn't useful, it wasn't kept. She does have quite a bit of very nice jewelry that is worth good money, but my sister can have most all of that, as my brother isn't really interested in it, and there are only 2 or 3 pieces that I gave her that I'd like to keep.

So, other than what Mom has specifically designated that each of have, my sibling can have pretty much whatever they care to cart back to there homes. Besides, the more that they abscond with, the less that I have to deal with!

As for my own estate, I'm making it extremely simple! As long as my Mom is still alive, she is the sole heir of my estate if I should pass before her. Period! If I pass after she does, then my entire estate, lock, stock, barrel, and coffee mug, goes to a local non-profit that does a fabulous job of working with mentally and physically challenged folks, several of which I have the privilege to be called their friend! And what they do with is totally up to them, as I won't care 'cause I ain't gonna be here!
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Old 10-29-2014, 01:31 PM   #20
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After witnessing our relatives literally ransack my Aunt's home a couple years ago after her passing (as in pulling drawers out of dressers and cabinets and dumping the contents on the floor, tipping over furniture, etc.), my Mom updated her will and created a Revocable Living Trust to help avoid any possibility of that happening when she passes.
I first heard of stuff like that happening when my mother passed. She lived in a CCRC and the first thing they did was change the door lock. We were allowed in once, with the security guy, to pick out clothing for her funeral service. After that it stayed locked until I could produce the Letter of Administration (this in MD) proving that I was the executor and then I had the only key. They do that because not doing so creates a liability for the CCRC.

We didn't have any issues dividing up her stuff. Each took a turn and the major issue turned out be the Angel Bear that Mom had made. We resolved that by agreeing to share it around once a year.

Why people make it more complicated than that is beyond me.
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