The passing of family heirlooms from one generation to
another should be a welcome tradition in most families, but unfortunately, this
process can cause long-lasting family rifts if not done properly. There are
many stories of families that have split over a silver tea service or a
portrait of a long-dead ancestor. If you don’t want that to happen in your
family, here’s what you can do as part of your estate planning:
Be sure to have a will.
Most people are aware of the importance of having a will, but if you have
family heirlooms to pass on, it is critical that you execute a will. It should
be as specific as possible, with details about each item and who gets it.
Simply stating that heirlooms should be “divided equally” can lead to a family
In some states, you can include a “no-contest” clause into your will that will
automatically disinherit any heir that contests a will. However, Florida does
not recognize no-contest clauses and courts here have found them unenforceable.
Create a list and share it.
All too often children will discover after Mom or Dad has passed that the
Tiffany lamp was promised to more than one sibling. This is why it is important
to create a list of your family heirlooms, assign names to each item and share
that list during a family gathering while you’re still alive and well. This
list can then be incorporated into your will or trust, so it becomes legally
Trust an executor.
If you simply cannot make a decision as to who gets what, then you can leave it
in the hands of your executor to make that distribution. Just be sure the
person you choose as your executor has good mediation skills.
Conduct an auction.
Some people elect to either liquidate the heirlooms at auction and place the
assets in trust for heirs or to hold a family “auction” where each child is
given so many credits they use to “bid” on the items they want. It’s a creative
way to head off a family fight if you see one looming.
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