Berman & Asbel, LLP

Finding a way to be fair when it comes to passing along heirlooms

In older generations it has been tradition to leave family heirlooms to the first born child in a family. This tradition dates back to the Anglo Saxon and British roots of our America’s laws. In fact, in Great Briton today there are still some assets that must be passed down this way, such as nobility titles. However, in the modern day United States most families do things differently and estate laws do not dictate the order or preference by age amongst children. As a result, families are left to determine what is fair in their own circumstance and divide up what can be limited resources or special family heirlooms among several worthy recipients.

One example of this can be family jewelry, such as a wedding ring or a valuable watch. A family might have only one of these types of items but two or more children who could be potential recipients, in which case many struggle to determine the most equitable way to pass the heirloom along.

To begin thinking about solving this problem, first consider the value of the item, both monetary and sentimental. For one child who was particularly close to the grandparent who owned the ring or the watch, the item might have higher sentimental value. On the other hand, it may have a very high monetary value compared with other personal property items being passed down. If that is the case, there may need to be some careful distributing of other personal property (like a coin collection or art) to evenly distribute the monetary value among all the children. 

Source: Washington Post, “Carolyn Hax: Thinking ahead about having one heirloom, but two heirs,” Carolyn Hax, Feb. 14, 2014. 

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