When my grandmother passed away at the age of 93, my mom struggled with how to divide her possessions in a way that felt “fair” between herself and her 5 siblings. I remember how much anxiety this caused, making the process of settling my grandmother’s estate even more strenuous. 

After a loved one passes away, it can be hard to decide what to do with their belongings. Often, this task triggers (more) heavy emotions, which can lead to arguments and ripple effects throughout the family. It’s normal to have disagreements under these circumstances. Below, we’ve put together some tips on how to deal with these disagreements and how to resolve any underlying issues. We’ve also included some resources that can make it easier to split someone’s personal items. 

Tips to help you address an issue head-on

After a draining dispute, it can be hard to start a conversation. You may not know where or how to get started. To aid in this process, we’ve created a visual summary of some of the most crucial points from Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen’s book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. From the Harvard Negotiation Project, Difficult Conversations provides a step-by-step approach to having tough conversations with less stress. 

If you’re interested in reading more, the link to purchase this book is HERE

Other options for splitting possessions fairly and happily

Alternatively, if you’re overwhelmed with dividing items, just know that there’s no “right” way to do it. There are multiple options to help streamline the process – you just have to pick the one that makes the most sense for your family. If the deceased outlined a plan for you in advance, it can make the process easier. If there’s no plan in place, here are some options to think about.  

Option 1: Sell everything 

The best option may be to sell a loved one’s possessions – especially if family members are not necessarily attached to any of the personal items. After selling the items, you can distribute the proceeds according to the estate planning document. If there are a few sentimental items of little monetary value, keep those and sell everything else. This is one of the simplest processes, ensuring everyone gets an equal value.

Option 2: Use the app FairSplit

This program has a patented division process that works wonders for families that need a blind, fair way to figure out “who gets what?”. There’s no need for heirs to take time off, travel, review lengthy packets of information, or negotiate in person. In addition to offering free online solutions, FairSplit lets you share home and asset inventories with others more efficiently and transparently. With FairSplit, you can upload photos and files, name assets, categorize them, sort them alphabetically or by value, search for them, and make reports. Having different permissions for invited users also allows you to manage viewing permissions between family members. 

Option 3: Draft Selection

Creating a draft selection process may be appealing to some families who want to get creative with the selection/division process. Snake drafts are the most common way to select/divide. It’s called a snake draft because the pick order starts with a randomized draw (pick names out of a hat or use a random generator online) and winds back and forth. By using a snake draft, the person who picks last in the first round gets to pick first in the second round. For more specifics on the rules of a snake draft, check out this article

Option 4: Appraisal Selection

The appraisal selection process involves two parts; first, generate a value for everything, and then, each person selects items within a budget. Before you start, make sure you have a comprehensive list of the items you want to give away, and that you know their value. When assigning values, everyone needs to agree on how to assign them. You can use a third-party appraiser, or if it’s available, the personal article insurance schedule for the items listed. Once the values are agreed on, add up the total value of all the items on your comprehensive list, subtract the appraisal fee, and divide it by the number of family members. 

Families can choose items up to or less than their budgeted amount, but they can’t go over. Everyone tags their names to the items they want. Assuming no two people pick the same thing, the remaining items are sold. The executor then distributes cash proceeds to cover the difference between the “budgeted” amount and the value of the items picked.

At the end of the day

A family should pick a process that works for them when dividing a loved one’s belongings. Consider using the appraisal method with drafting less popular items and selling the stuff no one wants if you have a few particularly prized items. Choose a process that feels fair for everyone up front. No matter what, the goal should be to choose a method that brings the most harmony to everyone involved.