Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?™
Family Stories About Transferring Property
Marlene Stum, Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Family Social Science
Reviewed February 2012
Perhaps the best way to learn about how we are all affected by the issue of personal property inheritance is to understand the experiences of real families.
Here are just a few of the stories people have shared with us over the years. Note: Names and personal details have been changed to protect family privacy.
- Laysha talks about sensitive family feelings
- Raksha considers his goals
- Tim feels the process wasn't fair
- Norma learns which objects matter to her family
- Joy considers distribution options
- Liz and her siblings disagree
Personal Belongings Can Trigger Sensitive Memories and Feelings
"When Mom died, my sisters and I had already graduated from high school and left home. Several years later, Dad remarried and his new wife moved into 'our home.' When Dad died, many of the items that belonged to my parents stayed in the house with my stepmother. Once she died, all of our parents' belongings — and the memories that went with them — went to my stepmother's children. We still feel hurt and angry when we see the milk glass candy dish from our family at our stepsister's house. The dish was given to my parents as a wedding gift. It's just not fair! Why should she have it?"
Identify Your Goals For a More Successful Process
"As a young boy my mother started me out with a stamp collection. My folks never had much, but Mom bought a couple of pages, mounts, a few stamps and a book about collecting to get me started. I've been collecting stamps for over fifty years now. My wife and I have been talking about making a list of who should get what things when we die. She says I need to decide about my stamp collection. I've talked to each of our three children and none of them seem interested. Our grandchildren, nieces and nephews aren't interested either. I know I could sell it for at least $10,000 but I don't want to. I would really like someone in my family to care about it, to carry on the tradition, and to get as much pleasure out of the collection as I have."
People Differ Over What Is a Fair Process and Outcome
"I am so overwhelmingly sad. When Mom died, my three older sisters took it upon themselves to divide up Mom's dishes and household items. They assumed that, as a guy, I wouldn't want any of these things. At the time, I didn't object. I was used to having them boss me around. Now I have two beautiful daughters who will never have a special remembrance from their grandmother. I wish I had something of Mom's to give my daughters. Who should get to make the rules? What would have happened if I had stood up to them?"
Learn What Objects Have Meaning to You and to Others
"I was very surprised when three of my seven adult children said they wanted a 25¢ Christmas tree ornament that had special memories for each of them. It is a carousel-shaped ornament with a red metal fan inside that spins around when placed over the heat of a tree bulb. As the children were growing up, they were fascinated with it. I still have the challenge of deciding which one of the three should receive the decoration. However, without asking, I would never have known that it was special to them."
Consider Distribution Options and Consequences as You Plan
"I had a minor stroke last year and it really got me thinking. My husband, Corky, died four years ago, and we never talked about what would happen to our belongings. He inherited everything from his parents because he was the oldest, but his brother never spoke to him again. I couldn't stand the thought of that happening with my kids, so at a family dinner I brought up the subject. We started talking about what was fair, agreed to meet again, and now those decisions have all been made. I'm ready to meet with my attorney. I can't tell you how relieved I am that my children won't fight about this after I'm gone."
Learn Skills That Will Help You Manage Conflicts
"There are six daughters in my family. The three oldest each had their own baptismal gown, while my younger sisters and I all shared one gown. After Mom died, my sister Connie (second youngest) was pretty upset about which of us younger girls would get the gown, or how we'd share it and who would decide. Every sister had a different opinion, and some of the discussions got pretty heated. Finally, Ann suggested the younger sisters draw straws for three special items: the shared baptismal gown, the First Communion dress worn by all six of us, and Mom's wedding dress. It turned out to be a great solution."