Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Divvying up an estate

(This odd blog post is coming up because a dear friend's mom died and she's about to go through this process. I know nothing of her family dynamics, but I'm reminded of hearing this when my mother died and it was helpful.)

Whenever someone dies, there's a bunch of stuff that needs to be divided up. Here's a reasonable way to do it when there's more than one sibling to divide things between to minimize the muss and fuss:
  1. List everything that's up for grabs that isn't listed in wills, codicils, or are just "everyone knows" of the "Mom always said that so-and-so should get her wedding ring and this other person was to get the china" sort.
  2. Identify everything that counts as a "big" thing, such as cars, boats, jewelry, silver.
  3. Everyone gets to pick a big thing. If there are enough big things to make two rounds of choices, have a second round. If you don't have enough big things to make an even round--such as 4 big things and three siblings--pad out the incomplete round with a choice of, say, 2 items from the "small" list to equate to 1 item from the big list.
  4. Tip: You can determine who goes first any way you like: oldest first, youngest first, drawing cards. When you have subsequent rounds, make sure that nobody is stuck with the same position. Best way is probably to come up with an order the first time, then move the first person to the end of the line and everyone up one.
  5. When you get to the small stuff, everyone cycles through picking items from the list until they're all gone. Write everyone's choices down on a big piece of paper or even on a whiteboard if you're that organized.
  6. Haggle. If you weren't able to get the big thing you wanted, see if you can come up with something to swap for it with the person who did. Maybe they'll sell it: there may be a great value to one of the cars, so if you wanted the 2008 Honda, you may need to haggle with your checkbook as well as the mantle clock and Xmas ornaments that you got in the "small things" list. Nobody is likely to get everything they want and that's life. Be civil.
  7. When everything's as settled as it's going to be, everyone should take their stuff and make arrangements to get it home.
This is a reasonably equitable process, but remember that even for the best of families, there will be a lot of emotions charging things up. Try to be as nice and gracious about everyone as you can.

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