When I look around my home, I don’t see stuff or things. I see memories. I see artwork on the wall that a high school friend made for me. I see a figurine I got during a trip to Prague with my college roommate. Even my furniture, there may not be special memories in buying my couch, but there are certainly memories of time spent on it with friends. In essence, I look around my house and I see my life. I think a lot of us feel that way. So because our stuff is so meaningful to us, I think we forget it doesn’t hold any meaning or at least not the same meaning for those we leave behind. And sometimes, we apply great financial value to our things, that are downright wrong. So what to do with our stuff?
As a preliminary matter, you should only hang on to stuff you use or get enjoyment from. If you don’t, consider giving it away or selling it before you die. That is always easiest, and could represent some tax savings at your death.
Some of our things have been passed down from our ancestors, whether our parents, grandparents, or even further back. For many of us, we want that tradition to continue through our children and their children. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope our descendants would value at least some of those things simply by virtue of them being family objects, part of our family history. However, you can’t necessarily expect that without your kids or grandkids knowing the history of those items. If you want your descendants to value those things as much as you do, you must, at the very least, leave a record of what they are and the story behind them explaining why they are important to the family. Even better, leave a written record but also tell your family the story next time you see them or talk to them so they can ask questions and get more details if they choose.
Collectibles you think have monetary value
First of all, don’t be hurt or upset if these things don’t have the value you think they should. Collectibles like Hummels are only worth the price someone will pay for them (I bet your grandkids don’t even know what a Hummel is). A quick search on ebay reveals Hummels generally selling for $5-$10 while many of my clients who own them think they are worth hundreds of dollars. There just may not be the market for things you think there is. If your collectibles bring you joy, by all means, hang on to them. But if you are simply hanging on to them to pass them to your heirs because you think they will bring money, it might be worth doing some research to see if you are, in fact, leaving them with some money or just a bunch of junk they will ultimately donate.
Collectibles with actual monetary value
If you do own something with monetary value—make sure you write it down somewhere! Sometimes our family is just trying to get through the ordeal of getting rid of your stuff and they will toss that valuable item in the donate box without having a clue it is valuable. Again, do your research ahead of time and consider writing down collectors, auction houses, or websites that are interested in your item and a rough idea of it’s worth. Make sure you have all the documents showing the provenance of the item (if you have it), meaning receipts and authentication documents.
As always, if you have any questions about how to handle a particular item or collection, that is certainly part of estate planning and what we do and we will be glad to give you a point in the right direction.