Possibilities in a Pie Plate – or Crèche

Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate? A Guide to Passing on Personal Possessions has terrific worksheets that help families navigate the challenges involved in determining who gets the “stuff”—not the cars, houses, bank, and retirement accounts but the personal possessions that are imbued with sentimental value. Their fate can tear families apart. Available from University of Minnesota Extension, this workbook is a great resource to help you to plan, or to help surviving family members distribute “stuff”.

See this crèche? My siblings and I discovered it in a box of Christmas treasures after my mom died. Unopened for years, I thought it had been lost. My overwhelming emotion at seeing the little Hallmark card box with these plastic figures was met by fascination among my siblings—no one knew that I would rearrange all the characters every Christmas when I was young.

The journey from unpacking that crèche in my mom’s apartment to coming out at my home every Christmas is a long and treacherous one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I think that’s probably why I encourage my clients so enthusiastically to think about how to manage expectations—when it comes to the stuff they leave behind.

There are lots of good reasons to avoid dealing with this. For one thing, it’s likely the pie plate for your famous pecan pie is so familiar that you can’t even imagine the civil war it might trigger after your death. It’s only a pie plate to you, right? But that pie plate—or crèche—might symbolize what your family has lost in your passing and provoke an acute experience of grief.

Then there’s the question of fairness. I told my three children many times that fair and the same were two different things. But perceptions of what is fair differ. What makes these valuable treasures special is their uniqueness. It’s not possible to settle a perception of unfairness by giving everyone the same thing or breaking it up into pieces.

Have you ever stopped and considered what these items embody? Things like wedding photographs or your dad’s hammer carry personal meaning. What makes these items “non-titled,” is that they are without specific instructions about where to go, unlike the beneficiary designations on your life insurance and retirement accounts. It will be left to your family and legal representatives to decide where your “stuff” goes.

Planning ahead can be challenging. The possibility I want to inspire is that planning for the transfer of these items gives you the opportunity now to preserve their beauty and meaning to you —and possibly avoid the tears in the woof and warp of family tapestries when this advance planning isn’t done.

Here are some ideas:

Start by making a quick list of the property and possessions that you treasure. I suggest three columns: Type, Description, Location. Type examples: Jewelry, Clothing ; Hobby supplies, Creations; Books, Cookbooks; Sentimental (photographs, letters, journals, baby items)

What are your reasons for completing this task? Which reasons are most important:

• maintain harmony within my family
• give myself peace of mind
• learn what items are important to family members
• tell others what personal items have value to me
• decide what I think is fair, or discover what my family thinks fair is
• record personal and family history embodied in items
• explore my goals and what I want to accomplish

What challenges do you see in this process? What alternatives or options do you see for meeting these challenges?

What experience would you like to create for yourself and those around you?

How will important relationships be impacted? What can protect relationships?

Who else do I/we need to involve in this process?

Now consider the items on the list. Are there items you assume someone wants? Or you expect they want? List those: Who, What, Why, When, How I/we feel

Create a “Property Decisions” list and keep it with your Letter of Instruction. Location, item, description, when, to whom.

By Miriam Whiteley, CFP®, RLP®, CeFT®
Eugene, OR