Tag Archives: sage-

Distributing Personal Effects (Part 3 of 3)

Finding Joy Amidst Grief

Chris Eckrich
Chris Eckrich

When a parent dies, family members each experience a unique set of memories, thoughts, and emotions around the parent who has just passed.  Ideally, extensive amounts of time would be allowed to pass before the adult children need to gather and distribute the personal effects of the deceased parent.

Many families anguish over how they will distribute Mom’s or Dad’s personal effects and how each sibling will respond in the matter.  Readers who have read the previous two blogs in this three part series will know that process comes before distribution.   In other words, the sibling group needs to be clear about the process that will be used to distribute items before items begin being passed out.

Of course, senior generation members often identify specific items in their estate plans that are to be distributed to specific persons.  These items should be distributed as soon as appropriate and no input is needed by the sibling group.  However, there often remain many items including pictures, vases, or tables that have significant emotional attachment by one or more of the siblings.  The best processes seek to allow each person to meet their emotional needs and also balance economic value in the distribution of items.  For parents with high quantities of expensive items, such as larger collections, the siblings may consider whether keeping a collection intact is an option or whether the items will be distributed out individually.  Additionally, consideration should be given as to what percentage of collections will be kept in family hands and what will be sold to either distribute as cash on an equal basis, or help pay taxes or process the estate.

Then we come down to the pictures, paintings, tables and don’t forget Mom’s or Dad’s jewelry.  It is not always clear how the family will navigate distributing these effects without conflicts emerging.  Some approaches that have been used by families (some use multiple approaches) include:

  • Drawing numbers out of a hat and then use a rotating system based on the number one draws.
  • Going through items together and siblings share what items meant to them personally when there is a sentimental attachment.  This allows fond memory sharing amongst the group and teaches the group something about the siblings that they will spend the rest of their lives with.
  • Going through one room at a time and distributing the items as smaller groupings rather than everything all at once.
  • Having all items appraised and then distributing in some order based on each person ending up with the approximate same value.
  • Sharing one or more items of meaning to each of the grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
  • Distributing those items of greatest meaning and then selling remaining items and using proceeds to make a donation or fund a scholarship in the parent’s name.

A key question will be determining the role of spouses in the distribution of effects.  As siblings may have various ideas about this, it will be important for the sibling group to first agree on the role of spouses before spouses become involved in the process, if this is possible.   Another factor is timing.  Families do well to allow adequate time to grieve before engaging in the distribution of effects.  If a family leader is the executor of the estate they will do well to assess each family member to determine readiness for this activity, which may be emotional and particularly difficult for some.

We know of families who use the opportunity to share life stories of the loved parent, especially happy or funny stories.  This is fitting when the stories can unify the group.  Still, personal effects need to be distributed, sold or given away.  A process that is seen as fair will increase the odds that future family relationships are built on support and not eroded by jealousies.

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Distributing Personal Effects (Part 2 of 3)

Who Took Mom’s Toaster?

Chris Eckrich
Chris Eckrich

Many families experience an aging parent who does not have crises in health, but more a deterioration of health over time.  Admirably, children often provide care and companionship for aging parents.  During these times it is not uncommon for decisions to be made about downsizing where the parent lives if a current home is too much to manage.  If the parent’s mental faculties are fully engaged, the parent can provide guidance on the distribution of personal effects.  But if mental faculties are deteriorating, it is up to the child or children in charge of the situation to manage the process of distributing personal effects.  The aging process frequently has the family on edge and grieving about the loss of a cherished family patriarch or matriarch and simple actions like removing Mom’s toaster can be interpreted as inappropriately seeking benefit from a parent’s illness by other siblings who observe the situation. 

Primary family caretakers help support family harmony and functioning by bringing together the sibling group and leading the creation of a process to distribute effects as the aging parent downsizes or distributes personal items.  We see families use lottery systems, bidding systems with fake money, or just consensus building as approaches to this process.  Nothing gets removed from the house until the sibling groups agree on the process, and then the process is followed to assure fairness among all.

Generosity in spirit is sometimes seen by a sibling group when they acknowledge the special care that the primary family care provider is offering through word, deeds, and sometimes giving priority to that person in receiving items to be distributed.  Lacking an agreed upon process, sibling groups are prone to descend into childhood jealousies with predictable outcomes:  feelings of hurt, being judged and under appreciation from loved ones.  This is not a time for families to be divided.  United families gain strength in tough times.  While each family develops its own process, usually lead by a Power of Attorney or another family leader, a clear process is most beneficial.

A question for any family creating a distribution process to consider is, “Would this process bring honor to our family?”

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Distributing Personal Effects (Part 1 of 3)

I Called it First!

Chris Eckrich
Chris Eckrich

Families of wealth often accumulate numerous objects of both tangible and intangible value over a lifetime.  When parents approach the later years of life they often begin downsizing or distributing personal effects.  Parents frequently value family harmony and realize that the distribution of personal effects can create anxieties and competition amongst the sibling group or grandchildren as they start to distribute belonging that they are ready to part with.   Often an item or two is passed on to a son, daughter or grandchild who has a personal attachment to the item and it is done out of love as a means of sharing something valued to a loved one.  It is especially normal for parents to be most aware of interest in items from those children who spend the most time in their home.  The child who comes over once a week has many more opportunities to clarify their interests than the child who lives overseas or across the country and may only visit once or twice a year.

Parents help their families by thinking through how the entire family may be impacted by the distribution of personal effects.  Seeking reasonable balance in financial value is important, but so too is seeking balance in sharing items that have sentimental value.  After all, these objects will become stimulators of joyful memories (hopefully) in the years to come.  Most parents at this life stage simply want to share valued items with their children and get to watch their children enjoy having or using the items while the parents are living.  Parents can avoid unexpected consequences such as family jealousies or disturbance by creating a process that they will follow in distributing personal effects and communicating the process to their children so everybody understands what is happening.  Late in life is not a good time for parents to experience their children wondering, “Am I really loved as much as my siblings?”  While sibling jealousies have to be managed by the siblings themselves, sage advice suggests a planned approach to distributing personal effects so as not to stoke fires of sibling competition and create hurt when only love and sharing were intended.

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The Entitlement Snare: Exploring Our Boundaries (Part B)

Wendy Sage-Hayward
Wendy Sage-Hayward

Parents in North America are caught in a dilemma. Baby boomers have more money than previous generations and one of our core cultural values is to give to others.  Naturally, parents form the notion that “we have money so we should share it with our kids”. This type of thinking leads to children getting what they want and often much more than they need. They get caught in the entitlement snare.

Recently when working with a wonderfully loving and giving family, I realized that love is not enough – especially in a family business. The famous line “love is all you need” may be leading us to believe in a fallible principle.

Parents need to establish and manage clear, reasonable boundaries from an early age in a family firm. Boundaries are rules or expectations you have as an individual, in your home and family, and in your business. As with many things in life, it is not the articulating of boundaries that is the challenge but rather the enforcing of the same. Most of us have a shared notion, for example, of what we consider to be healthy expectations and rules within our family firms: show up on time, deliver on what you promise, be respectful, accept feedback as positive input to your development, pay your own way and the like.

The real challenge comes with managing our boundaries and doing so with grace, finesse and wisdom. Boundaries can too easily get blurred due to the complexity and emotional context of a family firm. Unfortunately life is not  simple. Circumstances and relationships are not black and white.

As leaders of a family and family business it is imperative to consider what boundaries are important for you, your family and your business. In addition, it is critical to evaluate the type of support you may need to keep your boundaries strong.

One important cautionary note… It is too easy to suggest that we “set and hold” our boundaries one hundred percent of the time.

Sometimes it is fitting to re-assess and move the line you have drawn in the sand to more aptly address the situation at hand. Only good judgment and wisdom can help us understand the rare situations in which we need to be flexible with our boundaries.

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