What’s considered proper etiquette when it comes to discussing death and inheritance?
Conversations between family members about the eventuality of death and subsequent inheritances are often awkward and uncomfortable. They’re only made more so because people aren’t sure what’s considered appropriate to do or say.
Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions families have about inheritances:
1. When it comes to family heirlooms and keepsakes, how should they be divided?
If one child has a particular affinity for a certain item — say your oldest daughter has considered the broach you wore to your wedding special ever since she wore it to her prom — you can certainly leave it to that child. Just make sure that you leave the other children something of equal value.
As long as you are fair about the division when it comes to value and sentiment, it should be fine.
2. What if the kids disagree about who should get an heirloom?
It isn’t fair to let the oldest child have it just by virtue of his or her birth order. That makes the rest feel like they’ll always be slighted.
Instead, have the kids draw lots to establish the order and then let each child pick an item on his or her turn until all the mementos or heirlooms are divided. That’s the fairest way to handle it.
3. What if someone asks for a specific item?
This can be touchy, but if you keep in mind that your goal is to try to prevent family discord, you can handle it. Find out if anybody else feels strongly about that item. If they do, it should go into the pile of things that are divided up after the lots are drawn. The child that asked will just have to take his or her chances.
If no one feels that strongly about it, let the child who asked have it — but then, he or she has to go to the end of the line when it comes time to pick from the remaining heirlooms. That helps balance things out.
While each family is different, the important thing to remember is to approach the situation in a loving, respectful manner. That’s the best way to keep things from evolving into a complex family legal issue — like a disputed will.
Source: AARP, “Inheritance Etiquette: Talking Things Out,” Austin O’Connor, accessed May 09, 2018