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How to Divide Family Heirlooms Without Conflict

When it comes to downsizing or dividing up heirlooms, family conflict is the last thing you need. At our professional estate clearing and liquifying company, we understand the challenges families face during these times.


With 26 years of experience, we've witnessed it all and have earned a reputation for reducing conflicts between family members when it comes to dividing valued goods—whether sentimental or monetary. Today, we're sharing our method to help you and your family avoid conflict during this already overwhelming process. Let us make it easier for you.

old tea cups that are heirlooms

To explain how we prevent conflicts, let's dive into a case study involving three siblings and their children. If your family situation differs from our example, feel free to reach out for personalized advice on how and where to begin. Contact us here.


Let's imagine you have a family estate to liquidate, involving three siblings, where one sibling has two kids, while the other two have no children.


The first step is to create a Master List of all the desirable items in the estate. Categorize the list into two groups: sentimental items (e.g., Christmas decorations, artwork, handmade items, special cookware, blankets) and other valuable items. For sentimental items, their monetary value is irrelevant. They hold significant sentimental value to the family, regardless of resale worth.

making a master list for downsizing

For the valuable items, assign wholesale values while staying consistent and conservative. If needed, hire an appraiser to assist with the process.


Set the list aside and gather your family at the estate to physically label items with each sibling's name. This can be done by using post-it notes or any other labeling method. It's important to note that for siblings with children, it's best to represent the grandchildren by having their parents speak for them. Bringing more people into the process can raise stress levels, so we aim to streamline it by involving only the siblings.


Even if a sibling is unable to attend in person due to being out of town, don't skip the step of inviting them to participate. Virtual capabilities, such as Facetime or Zoom, allow them to join remotely, ensuring everyone feels included. Attending in person or participating physically aids in achieving closure, preventing potential regrets down the road.

downsizing tips

Tips for Labeling Your Desired Items

  • Place your name on items, even if someone else has already done so. Don't hesitate to express your preferences and avoid assuming what others may want.

  • Use different colored post-it notes for each person to make it visually clear.

  • Keep an open mind for conversations and be willing to compromise.

  • Remember that it's alright if nobody claims certain items. We will take care of them.

The Next Step: Once you have the Master List and everyone has labeled their desired items, you may notice some items with multiple labels. In such cases, compromise is crucial. We recommend allowing everyone to reflect on their choices overnight before physically distributing the items. Then, engage in a conversation where each person can express their reasons for wanting specific items. Be open-minded, avoid judgment, and listen attentively.


During this conversation, consider asking the following questions:

  • Why is it important for you to have this item?

  • Would you be willing to give up another item to keep this one?

  • Did you contribute this item to the estate initially?


If there is significant overlap and decisions need to be made, taking turns choosing items can be a fair and compassionate way to avoid conflict.


Additional Tips:

  • Create a relaxed atmosphere by playing music, enjoying tea, coffee, or even opening a bottle of wine.

  • Refrain from removing any items from the estate until all agreements are reached.

  • Show generosity and kindness to family members who may not have the space to take larger items like furniture. Allow them to select smaller items.


how to divide jewlery herilooms

Special Notes about Jewelry

We like to do a separate day just for jewelry, especially if there is a lot of jewelry to divide.

The first thing we do is sort the jewelry by laying it out on a table in categories:

1. Highly sentimental (example wedding rings)

2. Valuable

3. Mid value

4. Low value costume.


Roll a dice to see who goes first. Pick one category and take turns choosing one item from the table until the category is complete. Repeat for the other categories. You can trade items later.


Overall, You don't want anyone's feelings hurt during this process. Everyone be generous. Avoiding conflict can seem impossible, but with a plan in place to divide up the estate, hopefully it will make the process smoother. If you would rather have a professional, experienced team help with your situation, Contact us here.


Caroline Maurice

Co-Owner, Estate Concierge and Downsizing


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