Keeping Heirlooms In The Family: The Family Jewels

114How you and your siblings define family may make all the difference

So Mom has passed on and left the family heirlooms to you and your siblings to select from.

The problem is that the siblings have different ideas about where the heirlooms should ultimately end up.

Daughter one has been married 25 years and has two college aged children of that marriage – one daughter and one son.

Daughter two is remarried for 15 years and has one step daughter.

Son has two adopted boys.

When it comes time to pick out the jewelry, these different ideas about family heirlooms and lineage may become painfully clear, perhaps for the first time:

Daughter one: I think mom’s sapphire ring should be passed down to her granddaughters and their children. It is important for this ring to stay in the bloodline. I’d like to choose the ring for myself and ultimately my daughter.

Daughter two: My step daughter is my child. I raised her from toddlerhood like my own and I’d like her to have the ring someday.

Son: I’ve got two boys that have no interest in the ring but my wife has always admired it.

How to Keep Everyone Happy?

First of all, the siblings need to respect one another’s definitions of family. Daughter one cannot unilaterally declare the “bloodline” the only legitimate form of family. Nor can daughter two claim that stepdaughter would get priority over her sister’s daughter. Son is not too interested in the ring but certainly does not want an earful from his wife.

First, agree to disagree about what makes for a legitimate family line for heirlooms.

Second, get down to solutions:

Split the Ring

Is it a beautiful three stone antique ring? Have a jeweler remove the stones and reset them into three separate necklaces, rings, bracelets or brooches.

Share the Ring

Can’t stomach the idea of dismantling the ring? Time share it, either two ways between the sisters or three ways between sisters and brother’s wife.

In even years, daughter one keeps it (or lends it to her daughter). In odd years, daughter two keeps it (or lends it to her stepdaughter). Son’s wife may or may not be included in the sharing as a gesture of goodwill toward son. Or she may decline and son may select another item that holds more meaning for him personally such as his mother’s antique writing desk or a favorite painting that reminds him of his mother.

Add Choices

Is the ring really the only piece of jewelry in the estate that is desirable? Are there other pieces that remind you of mom, like a charm bracelet or cameo? Consider trading off the ring for a grouping of other items.

Ask Questions

This seems obvious but is rarely ever done. Daughters one and two should just ask their own children if they have any interest in the ring to begin with. One might say – sapphire is not my color. The other might say – I’d rather have gram’s charm bracelet.

You don’t know until you ask.

A Life Estate

OK, so daughter two is really in love with this ring, has matching blue eyes and will wear the ring every day. Her step-daughter is not interested in the ring. Have Daughter two leave the ring to her sister in her own will so that she uses it during life then it goes back to daughter one’s “bloodline.”

A Term of Years

Again, daughter two keeps the ring but only until daughter one’s own daughter reaches age 40 or some other age, at which point she gifts it back to the “bloodline.” Note: there may be a gift tax associated with this transfer but various individual exemptions would likely cover the gift without tax.

Remember to be creative, be collaborative and respect others’ choices.