Heirloom Handoff: How to Pass On Family Treasures With Ease


When creating an estate plan, people are often only concerned with passing on the “big things” like real estate, bank accounts, and vehicles. But similar items like family heirlooms and keepsakes, which may not have a high dollar value, frequently mean the most for our family. But for a number of reasons these personal possessions are often not specifically accounted for in estate planning documents.


However, there are a few reasons that you don’t overlook this type of property in your estate plan. The difference between heirlooms and keepsakes:


  • Heirlooms are passed down among family members for generations, and the passing of heirlooms sometimes involves traditions. For example, the first daughter to marry inherits her grandmother’s heirloom wedding ring.


  • Keepsakes are possessions that are given or kept specifically for sentimental or nostalgic reasons, and these items may only get passed on once. For example, photo albums are a typical keepsake that is treasured by many families.


Although just about any personal possession could be considered an heirloom or keepsake, some of the most common examples of these items include the following: Jewelry, Photographs, Books, Art, Musical instruments, Furniture, Clothing, Bibles, Recipes, Family documents, and Collections.


In the legal world, both heirlooms and keepsakes are considered “non-titled personal property.” And when there is no plan in place for the distribution of these items following the owner’s death, it can create conflicts among family members. Given the potential trouble the distribution of heirlooms and keepsakes can cause for your heirs, you’ll want to take extra care in seeing that these family treasures are passed on properly.

While there is no one perfect way to distribute these items in your estate plan, your primary goal should be to maintain peace among your loved ones during an already emotional time. As with most sensitive issues, clear communication is vital to this process.


By talking with family members about their feelings and expectations regarding your possessions ahead of time, you will have a much better idea of how to distribute these items. You should also decide ahead of time if you need to have any of your heirlooms or keepsakes appraised.

As with other assets you want to pass on after your death, you should include heirlooms and keepsakes in your estate plan by adding them to your will or trust. The best way to do this is by using what’s known as a personal property memorandum. A personal property memorandum is a separate document that is referenced in your will or living trust. The memorandum allows you to list which items you wish to leave to each individual and detail the reasons you are giving each item. And unlike a will or trust, you can create and update your memorandum without a lawyer’s help. You can change your memorandum as many times as you like, just make sure you sign and date it each time to ensure authenticity.


Although you don’t need a lawyer to create or modify your personal property memorandum, if you need any help or support with yours, reach out to us!

Of course, if no one can find your heirlooms and keepsakes, they aren’t going to do anybody any good. For this reason, it’s vital that you create and maintain a comprehensive inventory of all of your assets, including each of your family heirlooms and keepsakes. Fortunately, this is another service we offer all of our clients at no additional charge. We will not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, but we have systems in place to make sure your inventory stays consistently updated throughout your lifetime. Contact us today to learn more.



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