COMMENTARY 977.5: Things Are Just Things

Years ago, a listener told me her mom died leaving only a general will and a house full of personal items with sentimental and, in some cases, significant financial value. My listener said tensions were building among her and her two sisters as they approached the problem of allocating their mom’s stuff.

Each sister had different and conflicting expectations. The eldest believed her mom wanted her to have first choice of items. The middle sister was the major caregiver, and their mom had said, “I want you to have anything you want.” The youngest daughter said mom promised certain important items to her to give to the grandchildren.

None of the sisters was greedy, and no one wanted to fight over mom’s things, but emotions were strong. Each was willing to surrender her claim, but could they do so without hard feelings? Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon.

  •  First, the daughters should talk openly and agree that their relationships with each other are worth more than belongings.
  •  Second, they should promise not to say or do anything that their mom would disapprove of or that would sully their memory of her.
  •  Third, each sister must choose to let go of her expectations and claims as if all items were destroyed in a fire.
  •  Finally, they should find creative ways to divide the property without winners or losers. They might draw lots to establish a sequence of choices. Or certain important items could rotate annually among them. If some things are too encumbered with emotional claims, they should be sold or given to someone else.

What’s vital is that everyone remember that things are just things. It’s love and memories that have real and lasting value.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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