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Passing on Personal Possessions is Perplexing for People: 6 Pointers

As you gathered with loved ones over the holidays, you may have realized it’s time to start discussing how to pass on personal possessions—our “stuff.” From photo albums and china to jewelry and tools, it all needs to find a new home at some point in our lives.

Whether you’re the “giver” of the items or a potential “receiver,” Melissa Warden, owner of Room-by-Room Downsizing, recommends using these six proven strategies from “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?™”

  1. Recognize the sensitivity of issue. There are a variety of reasons why people don’t plan ahead for passing on personal belongings; many think it’s simply an economic and legal issue. However, decades of family dynamics and memories can complicate the issue.
  2. Determine a goal. For example, protecting family relationships is a goal that’s high on the list for many families. Or maybe your goal is to preserve privacy. You’ll use your goal to help you make decisions through the process.
  3. Decide what’s “fair” in your family. When divvying up personal property, fairness issues emerge in both the outcomes (who gets what) and the process (what methods are used to distribute items). Sort out what fair means to your family by talking about the topic now.
  4. Understand belongings have different meanings to different people. Avoid assumptions as to who wants want, especially based on gender and birth order. Again, givers and receivers are encouraged to talk with loved ones, share stories, and pass on family traditions.
  5. Consider distribution options and consequences. There are more options available the sooner you start having conversations about the topic. If no plans are in place or wishes known, state laws will apply.
  6. Agree to manage conflicts if they arise. They’re your things. Conflict is more likely when adult children and others are left to work things out on their own. They’re still your kids, regardless of their ages. If you think there will be conflict without your presence, then do all the allocation in advance or assign a third party to arbitrate later.

There is no magic formula for passing down personal possessions, but employing these six strategies can help your family have a more positive experience.

Melissa is a Certified Senior Advisor and a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. She’s a facilitator of the “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” workshop, which she can host for your family over Zoom. For a free 15-minute phone consultation to learn more, contact her at 847-809-1369 or through her website.

And check out the free resources on Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate? | UMN Extension.

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