How to divvy up your stuff

Dear Savvy Senior: What’s the best, conflict-free way to divvy up my personal possessions to my kids after I’m gone? I have a lot of jewelry, art, family heirlooms and antique furniture, and five grown kids who don’t always see eye-to-eye on things. — Seeking Peace

Dear Seeking: Dividing personal possessions among adult children or other loved ones is a task that many parents dread. Deciding who should get what without showing favoritism, hurting someone’s feeling or causing a feud can be difficult, even for close-knit families who enter the process with the best of intentions.

Here are some tips to help you divide your stuff with minimal conflict.


For starters, you need to know that it’s usually the small, simple items of little monetary value that cause the most conflicts. This is because the value we attach to the small personal possessions is usually sentimental or emotional, and because the simple items are the things that most families fail to talk about.

Family battles can also escalate over whether things are being divided fairly by monetary value. So for items of higher value such as jewelry, antiques and art, consider getting an appraisal to ensure fair distribution. To find an appraiser, visit


The best solution for passing along your personal possessions is for you to go through your house with your children (or other heirs) either separately or all at once.

Open cabinets, drawers and closets, and go through boxes in the attic to find out which items they would like to inherit and why. If more than one child wants the same thing, you will have the ultimate say.

Then list, on paper, who gets what. Sign and date the list and refer to it in your will. You can revise the list whenever you want.

You may also want to write an additional letter or create an audiotape, CD or DVD that further explains your intentions.

You can also specify a strategy for dividing the rest of your property.

Some fair and reasonable options include:

■ Take turns choosing: Use a round-robin process in which family members take turns selecting items they would like to have. If who goes first becomes an issue, they can always flip a coin or draw straws. To simplify things, break down the dividing process room-by-room, versus tackling the entire house.

■ Have a family auction: Give each person involved the same amount of “play money,” or use “virtual points” to bid on the items they want. This can also be done online at, a website for families and estate executors that provides a fair and easy way to distribute personal property.

For more ideas, see “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” It’s a resource created by the University of Minnesota Extension Service that offers a detailed workbook or interactive CD for $12.50, and DVD for $30, that gives pointers to help families discuss property distribution and lists important factors to keep in mind that can help avoid conflict. You can order a copy online at or by calling 800-876-8636.

It’s also important that you discuss your plans in advance with your children so they can know ahead what to expect. You may even want to start distributing some items now, while you’re still alive.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.