Pre-plan dividing up your estate to avoid problems

By 
  • November 2, 2012

Make sure special items go to the person to whom it means the most

A funeral is a time that should bring people together, not drive them apart. Unfortunately we have all heard sad stories about how arguments occur while people are grieving. It is especially sad when the arguments are over material possessions of the person who has passed away, over who should get what.

We all have something that reminds us of a loved one. Perhaps it is a special broach that grandma loved, a weathered ring that reminds us of our father’s strong oversized hands, a dining room table that the family always used on special occasions or a gold necklace that our mother wore every day.

Attachments don’t always have to be logical, except of course to the person who has the attachment. A parishioner, who we’ll call John, once told me that he had a special attachment to a juice container. His mother had the same juice container for more than 30 years. Every day during his childhood he had a glass of juice out of that container. Eventually he got older and moved away from home to start his own family. But the juice container remained. And every time he returned to visit his parents he would open the fridge and pour a glass of juice out of that same container. It reminded him, perhaps in an unconscious way, of his childhood.

One day, John went home, opened the fridge and saw right away that the juice container was gone. He asked his mother, “Where is the juice container?’

His mother replied, “Oh that old thing? Your sister wanted it, so I gave it to her.”

John’s immediate reaction was one of annoyance. He felt that a wrong had been done to him. Why should she get the juice container? And while he didn’t let his mother know, John must have revisited that annoyance every time he visited his sister’s home and got something out of the fridge.

If John could get emotional over a piece of plastic at a time when he was level-headed, imagine what could happen if a similar event occurred during an emotional time — such as during a funeral. All it would take is one careless word during a difficult time and a relationship could be strained — or worse — damaged.

Spare your loved ones this.

One way you can help is to consider asking each family member if there is something of yours that they are especially attached to. Wait until the moment is right and then ask the question simply and plainly. If siblings both name the same item, then ask if there is something else that means a lot to them.

Once you have gathered all the information, and when everyone is together, have a conversation to share with them on which specific items you intend to give to whom. This way everything is out in the open. Of course you do not want to start dividing up all of your possessions, just those few special items that mean something to each loved one.

And keep the conversation light. Ask why they like the item so much. Who knows, perhaps some good memories will surface and you will share a few laughs as you reminisce about good times. And you may learn something you never knew before.

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