Our treasured goods may be stuffed in boxes under our beds, sitting in clear view on our coffee tables or hanging prominently on our walls. Aside from whether or not our kids will want the stuff, the question is how to apportion the bits and pieces that we've accumulated over our lifetimes and, for some of us, the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents as well. Not just the stuff that has monetary value but the sentimental stuff as well.
If we leave it to chance--that is with, say, a reminder to our children and heirs to share fairly--we won't be around to suffer through a fight over the needlepoint cat pillow or the diamond earrings Poppy gave Nanny. But we shouldn't rest easy over the idea of missing the battle. We don't want our family falling apart just because we're not there physically anymore.
I've written here about how some friends have tackled the issue: making lists of who should get what, of holding "auctions" in the here and now for who gets what later and of tacking labels onto the bottoms of furniture and pictures. Into this morass comes the ever-sensible Philip Galanes and his Social Qs column. He addresses a query on this issue from a reader whose three daughters are squabbling over her two pearl necklaces that she no longer wears. The youngest has asked to borrow a single-strand necklace to wear occasionally; the oldest feels the mother has unfairly given the necklace away to her younger sister. The middle daughter could care less. There is also a triple strand necklace that no one seems interested in. The mother's plea to Galanes: "Help."
His kernals of wisdom, one of which points to the legacy the pearls represent:
Ask the daughters "if they’d like an heirloom pearl necklace. If all three say yes, remake the triple strand into two necklaces. If your middle daughter remains indifferent to pearls, give her first choice on another piece of jewelry to be claimed after you die.
Then let the girls take turns choosing from the remaining items in your jewelry box and keep a list. It may sound macabre, but letting heirs pick from personal property can be a sensible way to allocate it, in advance and without conflict.
painting: Cezanne. Peppermint Bottle