Family Heirlooms and your Will

What constitutes an heirloom? And who gets to keep what? In this guide we’ll dive right into all-things family keepsakes.
Family Heirlooms and your Will

Keepsakes exist in every family, and they can take on a range of shapes and sizes. Not deciding on who’ll be entitled to family heirlooms before a matriarch or patriarch passes can make things challenging for a family – and if you’ve read our previous guides on dividing your estate you’ll likely know just how important it is to get these matters in order before death.

But first, what actually is a family heirloom?

An ‘heirloom’ is a valuable object that has belonged to a family for generations. The object can be anything, really; it’s up to a family to decide on what constitutes ‘valuable’ and what doesn’t. Some value jewellery, others value old clocks, ornaments or furniture. There are no rules around what can and cannot be an heirloom – as long as it’s something physical that has been around for a while.

There’s an heirloom (or multiple heirlooms) in my family. How do I make sure it goes to the right owner when I die?

Great question – this is relevant for you, but also any other family members of yours who might have heirlooms in their possession.

The most important thing to do when you have a family heirloom is to include it in your Will when estate planning. Many families actually argue over heirlooms more than money – crazy, right? – because these items hold so much value and meaning, so it’s essential to do whatever you can to minimise familial drama post-death.

How do I decide on who receives the heirloom(s)? And how do I let them know without making anyone angry?

We don’t have the perfect recipe for success here. Dividing an estate is tricky, and doling out meaningful heirlooms can be even trickier. Everyone will likely have opinions on who the heirloom(s) should be given to, but it’s important you do what feels right to you and right for the majority of your family.

Here’s what we’d recommend:

Create a list of all heirlooms in your possession.

Consider which family members will likely value each heirloom the most. For example, if a granddaughter always adored her grandmother’s jewellery, it might be worth passing those special pieces on to her. Then, write each recipient’s name next to the heirloom they’ll be given so you know that each important item is accounted for and who’ll receive them. Be sure to provide a clear description of the item to minimise any confusion.

There’s a fancy legal word for this list – it’s called a ‘personal property memorandum’. So while it might feel like a silly little list, it’s not. It’s actually super important and recognised in the legal world. This list is then able to be incorporated into a Will so it feels a little more ‘official’.

Love some light-hearted fun and can’t decide on who should get what? Make a game of it!

If your family’s comfortable with death-related chat and you can’t decide on who should receive different heirlooms, it might be worth ‘auctioning off’ different items or making a game of the heirloom division process.

Consider writing down all heirlooms on little slips of paper and then popping them into a hat. You can then bring the hat out at your next family gathering and ask everyone to pick one slip of paper out of the hat. Whichever heirloom they pick out is the one they’ll receive!

Gift the heirlooms to loved ones while you’re still alive.

Sitting down with your loved ones to chat through different family heirlooms can be a beautiful way to connect and gift heirlooms to the important people in your life. While leaving heirlooms to family members in your Will is a very practical way to divide important assets (hey, you’ll never have to watch any drama that ensues after your family learns who is keeping what), there’s something extra special about gifting these assets in person. Especially if you’re creating your own new family heirloom – say a book, album or piece of jewellery – that you want your loved ones to pass down forever. Plus, you may get to enjoy seeing your loved ones use the heirlooms, particularly if it’s jewellery or a fabulous dinner set, for example.

Wrap up

The process of dividing family heirlooms can be tricky, especially around extremely valuable and contentious items. Our advice? Stipulate everything in your Will and plan, plan, plan, so that when your time comes – everything is accounted for.

Need to start estate planning? Have family heirlooms you’d like to pass down to a loved one? Start writing your Will online today – you’ll have a legally valid Will in just 15 minutes.

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