Written by Jim Worthington on August 9, 2019

Different generations view family heirlooms through their unique lenses. (For a general discussion of the generations over the last 75 years, see this Society for Human Resource Management blog post. Your author tested that link and all others in this post on August 4, 2019.) The Baby Boomers may likely be the last generation interested in using their parents’ furniture, china, and the like. For the most part, Generation X’s members have much different styles than their grandparents. Many if not most members of Generation Y are not yet settled enough to think about their permanent furniture needs. See this article.

As a lawyer who administers estates under trusts and wills, this low demand means that these items have relatively low monetary value. And that affects estate administration in a number of ways.

Some family members may want to donate the items for a charitable income tax deduction. (The new $12,000.00 standard deduction drastically reduces the number of those taxpayers.) For guidance on valuing donated property, see the Internal Revenue Service’s Publication 561. The IRS has a very specific definition of fair market value that doesn’t address personal, sentimental factors. Unfortunately, that means the value of that deduction is often lower than clients think it should be.

If there are disputes among the family over who should receive items or if items have been lost, the legal fees to argue can be overwhelmingly large in light of the value of the property involved.

Some family members want to sell the items and then divide the proceeds. There is still a market for them and auctioneers like Andrew Brunk of Brunk Auctions, Inc. are still getting a good price for them. But, how long will that last?

The best way to address these issues is for the senior generation of the family to deal with them head on. They should ask their children and grandchildren what they want and don’t want. They should determine the resolution of likely disputes before they ever come up. Talking with an experienced estate planning lawyer, such as a member of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, is a great first step.

Now what to do about that plastic bin of photos that pre-date jpegs and will take forever to scan?