The following is an article from the September 2017 issue of "Get Your Ducks in a Row" Carolina Family Estate Planning's free newsletter. You can read the rest of the issue, as well as back issues of our newsletter online at www.carolinafep.com/library/newsletters/ or subscribe for free at www.carolinafep.com/newsletter.cfm
The New York Times recently ran a feature that caught my eye, “Aging Parents with Lots of Stuff, and Children Who Don’t Want It.” In the article, the author handles a question that might be a little uncomfortable for some families: what if your children or grandchildren don't want the heirlooms you've been holding onto for them?
Our baby boomer clients represent a generation of super collectors. During their lives, they have accumulated fancy dinnerware, furniture, and decorative pieces, both purchased personally and as gifts from weddings, birthdays, and milestone anniversaries. The number of “family treasures” some have collected is overwhelming. The trouble is, heirs may not want or need their parents' china, crystal, dining chairs, or nesting tables.
Part of the issue is a cultural difference between generations. As someone who orders a lot of stuff online, a lot of what we buy nowadays, to be frank, is disposable junk. The article is apt in pointing this out: “Today's young adults tend to acquire household goods that they consider temporary or disposable, from online retailers or stores like Ikea and Target, instead of inheriting them from parents or grandparents.” With that in mind, consider that it can be hard for someone who spent less than $100 on a set of dishes to appropriately value Grandma's fine china. This might occur at the subconscious level, even if it's not realized consciously.
So what is a would-be benefactor to do?
As with so many family misunderstandings, often the best solution here is to communicate: Plan a family meeting. Prior to the meeting, put together a list of personal belongings you'd like to bequeath to heirs. For any items you think may have a significant monetary value, consider having the items professionally appraised. If the value of any individual items—or the sum total of your estate—far exceeds your original estimate of their worth, contact our office, and we can help evaluate the financial and tax consequences on your heirs.
Then, at the meeting, explain to your would-be heirs what you would like to give to them upon your death. Explain why it's important to you that they should have and keep it. Most importantly, be prepared to hear that they may not be able to accept what you'd like to give them. Although you may be disappointed, it is often liberating to get this out in the open, and it's a much better outcome than the alternative: your heir selling a family heirloom because they didn't know what it meant to you.
By the way, for our clients, once decisions are finalized, the list should be transferred to the Personal Property Memorandum in their binder. Also, our plans always contain a provision for what happens if the intended heirs cannot agree on what to do with personal effects.
If all else fails, liquidate.
The Times article presents several possible solutions for seniors selling or donating unwanted belongings. However, if you're trying to preserve your eligibility for Medicaid or VA benefits, contact us first. While some personal effects are not countable, an influx of cash might penalize you when applying for benefits.
If you're facing a downsizing dilemma or have questions about how to talk to your family about bequeathing personal collections and treasured belongings, contact us. We're here to help.