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Earmark Your Personal Effects

There is no such thing as “distributed equally among my heirs” when it comes to bequeathing your personal items in your will. If you assume your children will work things out among themselves, consider that it might be your children's lawyers who will do so instead. 

To avoid passing along a legacy of family hurt, consider these ways to divvy up items of a sentimental nature:

  • Ask your children what they want. Don't assume your eldest daughter still wants the family silver because she did at 16.
  • Be clear and descriptive. If there are two antique vases to bequeath, specify who gets the Lalique and who gets the Tiffany.
  • Label desired items with the intended recipient's name. Keep a master list in case labels fall off.
  • Give away the items while you're still alive.
  • Let each child draw the name of a room in the house. Give each one first dibs in picking a desired item from the room he or she gets.
  • Leave your wishes in a letter of intent separate from your will. The letter is easier to update than the will, should your decisions change.
  • Sell off any contentious items. Split the proceeds evenly among your heirs.
  • With any child who eagerly wants the most expensive pieces, reduce the share of his or her liquid assets by the monetary value of those items.
  • If more than one child wants a particular item, devise a schedule to circulate it. Perhaps each child gets possession of the favorite family heirloom for one year, before sending it on to the next sibling.
  • Scan treasured family photos to give to everyone.

Following these tips can help to ensure that your children inherit the items they want, as well as help to avoid instances of contention during a time of sorrow.