Dealing with Family Heirlooms in Your Estate Plan


The distribution of family heirlooms needs to be dealt with carefully in the estate planning process. Whenever an item has both sentimental and financial value, there's a high potential for disagreement among your heirs.

With the exception of photographs, scrapbooks, and personal letters, most family heirlooms will need an appraisal to determine their fair market value. Antiques, jewelry, and fine art should be appraised by a professional organization such as the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America before you create your estate plan.

Clear language in your will can help prevent misunderstandings among your heirs. It's common to state that "all personal property" should go to a particular person, but this type of language leaves the distribution of heirlooms such as great grandmother's fine china and great grandfather's gold pocket watch open to interpretation. Be specific about who gets what or use an addendum to explain your wishes.

Before you make any decisions regarding the distribution of family heirlooms, consider sitting down with your heirs to ask if any objects are of particular importance to them. Your son may feel strongly about being able to keep the painting displayed in your study, while your daughter may have dreams of being able to wear her grandmother's diamond earrings on her wedding day.

Although you may want some objects to remain in the family, selling certain items may be the best way to reduce family tension. If there are more family members than heirlooms, selling the items and splitting the proceeds is the only way to ensure that no one feels left out. However, if one person feels strongly about keeping a particular item, they should be given a chance to purchase it using an equal amount of cash from the estate.

How Can We Help?

Our Pasadena estate planning attorneys can help you create a plan that best addresses the distribution of family heirlooms, as well as any other specific concerns that you might have. Please call our office at (626) 683-8113 or email us at to schedule an appointment.