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Task: Allocating Personal Possessions & Heirlooms

Meaningful heirlooms and keepsakes can mistakenly be tossed in a donation bin or the trash if you don’t share the stories behind them.

It could be a set of cutlery you bought on your honeymoon in Italy, or a classic table clock that was passed down from your grandparents to your parents. If it has a story behind it that would resonate with anyone in your family, tell it!

If it’s something of great value, you’ll want to include it in your Will, which we covered in the “Your Will Part 1: The Possessions” task. If it's items with sentimental value, leaving notes on the bottom is effective and a sweet gesture. All it takes to guarantee your treasured items get into the right hands is a prominently placed note somewhere in your home, or included in a Letter of Last Instructions, saying something like this: “There are personal notes attached to many items in the house. Be sure and check the back and bottom of each before you discard anything you might not want.”

There is no template for what to include on these notes:

  • You can offer the personal history of the item (“This letter opener was on my desk from my first day on the job until my last, Love Dad.”)
  • A brief cute thought (“Your father bought me this vase on our 10th anniversary and it always craved fresh flowers”)
  • Or simple and straightforward (“I wanted you to have this”)

It doesn’t have to be much, but it’s best to include the name of the person who should get it to prevent disagreements as to where it should go. If one kid wants the Thanksgiving serving bowl, but there’s a note with another kid’s name, it’s pretty clear to everyone in the family who should get it.

The Task

Make a list or spreadsheet of all the heirlooms you would want others to have and include names next to the items. This list serves a dual purpose because it can be used by your family as an inventory and let them know who’s getting what. Once the list is final, and you’re in the mood to do some tagging, grab some Post-Its or index cards and tape, and get to work attaching the notes on the back or underside of each item.

Here’s an exercise you can do when you’re ready to assign items in your home to people in your family: Put Post-It Notes or gift tags on the underside of it with the person’s name, letting everyone know that item is claimed. While you might be too young to do this now, it’s a nice gesture from aging parents and makes cleaning out a residence a sort of scavenger hunt or second Christmas for the family.

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