One of the greatest concerns I have noted amongst older couples is, “What will happen to all our stuff when we are gone?” I can remember having a family meeting with a couple in their 70’s and their four adult children and noticed that mom was getting very anxious. At first I thought her anxiety was due to the fact that she was preparing to discuss her end of life planning with her children.
But when I asked her what her concern was, she responded, “I don’t know what I am going to do with all my stuff! I have several beautiful collections and I don’t want my children fighting over the objects right after my funeral or just putting them out in the yard for a giant tag sale!”
She admitted to me that she hadn’t slept for several nights thinking about this terrible possibility. She confided in me that her husband still wasn’t talking to his sister after 20 years because she had raided the house when their parents died and taken everything of value before he had even arrived. “I don’t want that happening in my family!” she proclaimed.
So what did we do? I asked her to describe her valuable collections to her children at the family meeting. She then created a list of all the items and asked each child to review them. If they wanted an item they were asked to put their name next to it. If more than one wanted something they both listed their names next to it and mom would decide who got it.
Mom collected the lists after the family meeting, reviewed them over the next few weeks and then reported to her children who would get what. No one disputed her decisions. After all, the collections were hers and she could give them to charity if she chose. The next time I talked to her I noticed her anxiety level was significantly less. She told me that for the first time in a long time she was sleeping very soundly.
If you are a parent, don’t do your children a disservice. Don’t leave it up to them to decide what to do with your stuff after you are gone. The loveliest relationships are often spoiled by siblings fighting over the silver forks. Meet with your children and tell them what you intend to do. If you are an adult child, strongly suggest to your parents that they follow the procedure my client did. It will save much grief and anxiety for the whole family.