What happens to your belongings when you die?

October 15, 2019

As Financial Advisors, we put a lot of thought and effort into making sure that we have the proper beneficiary designations and titling on accounts for clients so that they are passed on appropriately someday in the future.  Much of our focus is on investment accounts, bank accounts, houses, etc. – but what happens to all our belongings someday when we are not here?  Who gets the grandfather clock that’s been in the family for 85 years?  What happens to the serving dish that was used for so many Thanksgiving dinners?

Items are meaningful to family members in different ways, and as much as many have taken the “Marie Kondo method” to their homes, we all have belongings that need to go somewhere when we die.  For those that have specifically spelled out the method of distribution prior to their death, the remaining heirs will simply follow those directions.  If someone has specifically communicated how they would like specific items passed on, then those wishes should be carried out.  For the survivors that don’t have a clear direction, it will be a little more difficult.

Here are a few tips to consider in order to make it a fair process:

  • Get Appraisals:  In the event that there is artwork, furniture or other valuable items, getting an appraisal is the best first step.  Many auction companies will provide a complimentary appraisal in hopes that they will be the company that gets to sell it for them.
  • Use a Draft method and take turns picking:  After it’s been determined who keeps the valuable items, use a random draft order to pick the remaining items.  Find a way to determine a random draft order, and each person can pick items during their turn.  This allows all involved to have an opportunity to choose items that have sentimental value.
  • Hire a professional:  For those families that may disagree over the proper way to divide someone’s belongings, it can be helpful to hire a professional to come to an agreement.  When the items in question have a lot of sentimental value, an Elder Mediator can help resolve these issues.
  • Have everyone present when the items are divided:  It’s best to go through all the items together with everyone present.  This may be difficult with schedules and family members living far away but doing it together allows for the best communication.  In an era of text messaging and emails, so much gets lost in translation, and it’s best to work through these issues in real-time and in person.

Each circumstance will have its own considerations, and the right way of distributing one’s belongings will vary case by case.  There are also other ways in addition to the above suggestions, and it’s best to plan for these cases during one’s lifetime.  Putting together a plan may help save your survivors from future disagreements and time spent dividing everything.