As you gathered at Mom & Dad\’s house over the holidays, did you happen to notice items that you would like to have such as ornaments, holiday dishes or silver? (Oh come on . . . I\’ll bet you did!) And even if you didn\’t, I can assure you at least one of your siblings did!

In previous columns I\’ve talked about the family fortune as it relates to helping Mom/Dad – specifically working together to make caregiving decisions. But saving the family fortune can also mean preserving and distributing “stuff” and that\’s what we\’re going to look at this month.

The best case scenario is talking with your parents while they are still alive so you can preserve the family history through the items. However, you want to do this without coming across tacky or insensitive – and especially to avoid hearing “I\’m not even dead and already you\’re picking my house clean!”

So rather than saying “I want this and I want that”, ask about the story behind the item. Ask where the item came from and it means to them and tell them what items mean to you. Not only will you save a piece of the family history, you also let your loved one know that the piece means something to you, too. This shared experience might even produce unexpected results.

When I was growing up there was an elephant statue that was always in our bookcase. One day I told my father how much I loved the elephant. He jumped off the couch, handed the elephant to me and said “Please, take it now!” As the only child, my father received the elephant upon his father\’s death but he had always disliked it. By telling him that I loved it, I got to have it right away and got to hear about it\’s history as well.

The second scenario is when Mom & Dad have passed away and you and your siblings are divvying up their stuff. Sadly, this is when many families run into big trouble.

Sometimes the trouble comes because Mom or Dad left something to one child that another child wanted. When my father died he left me a beautiful antique lamp. It turned out that my sister really wanted it too. Unfortunately, no one knew that it meant so much to her. Had she said anything, he probably would have left it to her but instead she was angry and no one knew why.

This could have created a serious, long lasting rift between my sister and me but it didn\’t because as soon as I found out how much the lamp meant to her, I gave it to her. (The lamp didn\’t mean that much to me.) Having a wonderful, generous sister like me, however, isn\’t usually the case! Lasting resentment and animosity is far more common.

The other problem can come when your parents don\’t specifically designate to whom the items should go. Instead their will says something like “All of my household possessions are to be divided equally among my children.” How and where do you start?

First of all, start by everyone reviewing their list of “What\’s Important to Me” (See the October column.) and review the rules you all established – especially “What\’s Fair”. (See the November column.)

Then, before anyone touches anything, decide how you will divide items up that\’s fair to everyone. Use your imagination and even though this may be a sad occasion, try to make it fun. For example:

  • Give each person an equal amount of “Monopoly” money and let everyone “buy” items they want or auction the items and let people bid for them. When their money is used up, they\’re done.
  • Play “rock/paper/scissors”
  • Write the items on a piece of paper and take turns drawing them out of a hat

Quick word of caution . . . No matter how close a family is, there\’s always potential for conflict. Therefore, it\’s always best to decide in advance what you will do in case disagreements arise.

And finally, as with anything . . . . please proceed with love.

Happy New Year! May this be the year we\’ve all been waiting for!

© Copyright AgeWiseLiving® 2008 You can find information about “The Ultimate Caregiver\’s Survival Guide”: The step by step blueprint to resolving your Eldercare issues by choice, not crisis WORKBOOK, AgeWiseLiving® seminars and free teleseminars, and to sign up for Barbara\’s free monthly newsletter at or by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE. Barbara E. Friesner is an author and the country\’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families. She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University, where she created and teaches “Seniors Housing Management” at Cornell\’s School of Hotel Administration.

Barbara Friesner is the country's leading Generational Coach and an expert on issues affecting Seniors and their families. She has been interviewed for Advising Boomers magazine, featured on NY1 TV's Focus on Seniors and Coping with Caregiving on wsRadio. She has also been quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country and her articles have been published in the CAPSule, the Children of Aging Parent's newsletter.