When you are a child you never look at things with a calculating heart. Things, are just…”things” not possessions or items of value. They are just items that are in the background of the life you are traipsing through as just that, a child. I don’t know at what point belongings become more than that in our minds. When we stop looking at silver hairbrushes and music boxes as anything more than the magic shiny brush of a princess and the music that she dances to while waiting for her prince to come. I have no earthly idea when old rusted gliders and antique dining room chairs become more than proper tent making objects. When costume jewelry ceases being ornate crowns for a queen and value replaces imagination. Objects, once seen through the innocent eyes of a child start becoming commodities, things that hold worth, heirlooms to fight for and unfortunately over. I do not know exactly when this change happens, but somewhere along the way, it does.
One of the things I took away from the death of my father, is that even in the best of circumstances, the act of dividing the personal effects of someone you loved is difficult. It is not so much that you want to deny the other person their own treasures and memories, but it hard not to stand your ground and white knuckle your right to claim what you hold dear. I think my sister and I handled the situation the best way we could, separating Daddy’s things into various piles, flipping a coin, and then proceeding from there…one pick for you, one pick for me…and so on. We didn’t get everything we wanted, and often found ourselves holding our breath as we slowly and painfully took our turn. When it was over we graciously swapped artifacts based on the faces we saw on one another when a cherished item was lost to the other’s turn. However, even with the best of intentions, my Father left a lot of empty gaps and questions along the way.
Having “the conversation” is difficult for anyone, mainly because you are discussing being gone, no longer here…dead. No one wants to speak of it, or listen to it because the whole idea of death is so very taboo to us. No matter the skirmish feelings you have about discussing the way things are to be divided, distributed or dissolved after your passing, it is necessary in order to avoid the fall out of others trying to decide your wishes, or what they believe your wishes were. The pain of losing someone you love often finds a way of displaying itself in ways that are purely emotional. It is not always fair, realistic in nature, or kind to others. The raw emotion of grief is the worst, let me assure you.
Having a well-written will* and naming your heirs requires deep thought and at times some serious reflection on how that individual will handle whatever is bequeathed to them. It may be that you have more than one child and one is better with finances than the other by nature. Exploring your options while you can still control the outcome is a good way to make sure that your legacy is secured against wasteful spending and irresponsible behavior. A will also clearly states what your intentions are for each child. In this manner you are hopefully dispelling any hard feelings or resentment that could arise. When there is no clear plan of execution, as when laid out in a will, the outcome rarely unfolds the way the person who has passed would have hoped. Death is a very delicate subject, but a crucial conversation to have to avoid potential family disputes.
Communication is an essential part of any estate planning. It isn’t just the inheritance of money or property, sometimes the more important item is as simple as the shiny brush or the old rusted glider. These items represent a link to the past, an ardent connection to a lifetime of memories. What one person see’s as just an object, another may view as a treasure. The simple act of sitting down with one another and being able to laugh and reminisce about things, share stories, tell tales of why things matter to you should be the first step. It opens up the dialog between siblings and family members and gives them an opportunity to express what is important to them.
Just like my sister and I when we flipped the coin, your mindset going into things is so crucial. Embrace the topic with your family as a way to ensure everyone is on the same page. Host a big family dinner, discuss things with one another afterward in a relaxed atmosphere. Offer a weekend to have your children over to your home, suggest maybe coming without their spouses if that is possible without hurt feelings. Simplifying things to just the core family can make talking freely sometimes easier. Walk through your home, share memories of where in life you acquired certain pieces of furniture, serving platters or jewelry. It not only provides them a timeline to the history of things, but opens the conversations for them to share memories that they have with things growing up. Consider labeling items along the way so everyone is in agreement. There are many pre-emptive measures you can take that will make the days after losing a loved one easier to face because details have been discussed openly and honestly.
If it would be possible and you feel comfortable with it, ask your financial advisor for your children to accompany you to your next review. This introduction would give the future “heirs” a trusted contact person that they can get in touch with if something were to happen to you. Knowing that you have a stable relationship with someone you trust will make tough decisions easier for them one day. Planning for death as mentioned, is not something we like to dwell on. However, having a plan in place, that is thoughtfully crafted, created with not only love, but with time and consideration can make a huge difference to your heirs after you have gone.
The most amazing gift you could leave them is peace of mind. The freedom to know that come what may, all that has needed to be said…has been spoken from the heart, leaving nothing to doubt, nothing to fear…and without fear, we can enjoy every moment life gives us.
For more information, watch this brief video about taking inventory of your processions, and if we can help you with any of the difficulties along the way, please reach out to us, that is why we are here.
~ Penny Wise
* Each state varies in how it recognizes a valid will – you may wish to refer to an attorney for guidance.