As a kid, I would roam around my parents’ house, admiring the paintings and objects d’art that they had collected over the years. My sister and I would call dibs on the items that we favored. It was a bounty of goods, and I was sure that each and every item would be with me for the rest of my life. But as the years went by, and I married and established my own household and sense of style, I realized my interest had diminished. Sure, there were a few items that I considered to be heirlooms, or of enough investment value to keep and treasure over the years. But I never talked with my parents about their wishes, and when they passed away several years ago, the decisions around which items I would keep or dispose of were hard made and emotional.
So it was with interest that I came across a New York Times article with the bold title of “Aging Parents with Lots of Stuff and Children who Don’t want it”, by Tom Verde. In the article, the author captured my experience. Bottom line, as baby boomers grow older, retire and downsize, they are expecting that their children will cherish the keepsakes they’ve gathered over the years. Guess What? The kids are living their own lives, and don’t necessarily want to clutter their lives with their parents’ “stuff”. Importantly, it’s more than an issue of want or desire. Kids today may not have the room or the means to hold onto these things. And it’s part of a larger national trend as the population ages, and cultural mores change.
The article focused primarily on items like furniture, china, favorite crystal pieces and jewelry. The stuff of everyday life. But the trend away from the passing down of heirlooms and keepsakes includes luxury items as well, like stamp and coin collections, wine and art. The stakes get higher when dealing with the kind of items that have more potential value than might be recognized by the intended beneficiaries or the agents who represent them.
The one common denominator between the passing down of household goods, or transferring highly valued assets like art is the need for communication between family members. Often the conversation around who gets what, or the importance of an item to the family dynamic goes unspoken. The lack of dialogue could have a meaningful financial impact on the family, especially if there are significant taxes due on the family estate or capital gains due when a valuable item gets sold at auction. Too often, planning decisions that could benefit the family, like donating assets to a charity, are simply bypassed because the dialogue never occurred.
Having a conversation around the family’s belongings is but the first step in making a plan around the disposition of valued items. But it is a critical step in recognizing and identifying both the financial and emotional value of the treasures that make up our lives.