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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Current Trends - Inheriting Personal Property - Episode 79

Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Welcome back for another episode of Legal Tea! Today’s topic is a current trend … something going on in the current time or that I’ve stumbled across on the news or social media, that is pertinent to my little estate and elder law world. This week’s episode is based from an article I found on Money Talks News about items that are commonly inherited, which are worth almost nothing (but oftentimes, people think they ARE worth something). We’re going to go through some of the things, and what I’ll do is chime in on real-life stories of clients and dealing with those types of personal property items. Should be a fun one!

So, before we get started, let’s lay some groundwork here. This whole topic really comes to fruition USUALLY when someone passes away and it’s time to clean out the house. Sometimes, in someone’s estate plan, they’ll designate who they want to get specific items (the fancy word is called specific bequests) – so in an estate plan, you can say, “I want my diamond ring and wedding band to go to my granddaughter, Susie.” Or, “I want my classic car to go to my son, Johnny.” Now, these specific bequests get honored “off the top” meaning that they take place FIRST before, like, final distributions of money are made. These specific bequest items can be ANYTHING – so sometimes, I see jewelry, antiques, sentimental items, coins, Waterford crystal, chinaware, etc. etc. The list could go on and on and on…

Interestingly, where I sit, I am often the one that the client is telling me to put the “ring to Susie” and “car to Johnny.” So, I’m the one incorporating these things into their estate plan. But say, they don’t have any specific bequests/specific wishes on items – all of that personal property is STILL the estate’s asset and property, and therefore, subject to the person’s Will or Trust. So, last fast forward some time, and the person has passed away. So, as part of the Executor or Trustee’s duties and responsibilities, they’ve got to deal with your stuff in your house, condo, apartment, whatever.

Needless to say, that “stuff” inside or outside your house is definitely related to my little estate and elder law world – after all, whether it has monetary value, sentimental value, no value – it’s all still part of your estate. Even if it’s worth 5 cents. Still part of your estate, my friends. Now, on this topic, I find many, many clients that think some of these items are worth mega bucks. Well, mega means different things to different people. What I mean by this is oftentimes, people think that personal property stuff is worth a good chunk of change … and studies show, more and more generations don’t give a hoot about this stuff leaving it to result on fairly low value or completely valueless.

Let’s use something on the list from the article as an example – one type of item on the list is chinaware. So, I’m taking about those china dishware – you know the stuff that your grandparents or parents have in that fancy-looking hutch … that you MAY (but probably not) use on some holiday. That stuff. I hate to break it to you, but there’s just not the demand for it anymore – so, it’s basic economics, right? If there’s little demand, prices become less competitive. I’ve seen this time-and-time-and-time again in estates – so, someone has passed away, NO ONE wants the chinaware, so they either sell it online (good luck with that), sell it at a garage sale, or sell it at an auction – and they make next to nothing off of it. I’ve seen that stuff be sent to auction – and it depends on who shows up at the auction that day to buy stuff, but I’ve seen chinaware go for a few bucks. That’s it. Not kidding.

Let’s shift to something else on the list from the article – ohhhh, crystal. Like, Waterford crystal. I actually have a personal story on this one. Again, same concept as chinaware. While it used to be BIG and popular and expensive back in the day, “kids these days” for the most part don’t care about it. So, what did I say about the chinaware? If there’s little demand … you practically give it away. So, my story on this… I served as the Executor of an Estate, where the person had very little family left (distant cousins) so she put me, a professional, in that role to do all-things-estate related after passing. So, she passed away, I take over, and one day, I’m cleaning out her house. I had finally made it to the downstairs and was chipping away at cleaning out the front entry way closet. I notice a large box in the back of the closet and I pull it out. To my surprise, it’s filled to the brim with beautiful Waterford crystal!

I had hired someone to help me clean out the house – it was becoming a full-time job (you know, on top of my full-time attorney job!), so I recruited another set of hands. I went and grabbed her, showed her what I found, and I was like, “I know this stuff was expensive when it was purchased – but in my experience, it has such a minimal value anymore.” We weren’t going to do a garage sale and like I said, the person that passed had essentially no family left. So, we elected to take it to a local auction company to sell it for us. I remember a large beautiful crystal globe in the box – and I thought, “I wonder how much that baby cost!” Well, at the bottom of the box, I found the receipts. That thing cost $700! Well, would you believe me if I told you it sold at auction for $15. Well, believe me. That happened. Everything else sold for pennies on the dollar too.

Alrighty, let’s shift to something else on the list from the article…

Furniture. Whether it’s large, antique, a hunk of junk, whatever; furniture. This one is a touch tricky because if I stay very general and what I’ve experienced, MOST people don’t want their Grandparents’ or Parents’ furniture … because they already have their own. There’s a select few out there that 1) either really need furniture (like maybe they’re moving or something) or 2) that love “old stuff” like an antique dresser. But MOST people don’t. They don’t want it. They don’t need it. And honestly, you hitting them up for it – they feel guilt for saying no because after all, “it is Grandma’s” or “it is your father’s childhood bed.” Or whatever. This stuff is a classic case, a classic example of something that may have high SENTIMENTAL value, but little to no monetary value, right?

From there, the person that may receive the furniture item really just has to decide if it’s enough of sentimental value for them to go through the hassle of bringing it into their own house – and ultimately, pawning it off on their own children or loved ones down the road. I can speak to this, too, because my own parents were recently remodeling a room and in that room, they had my grandmother’s rocking chair. That rocking chair, I mean, I can see my Grandmother rocking in it. So, they hit my sister and I up, “Hey do you want your Grandma’s rocking chair?” I think I was in a meeting, so I didn’t immediately respond – my sister beat me to the punch and said, “No – I don’t have room for it.” So, I see the conversation and immense guilt comes over. Like, I WANT TO SAY NO – but I think my Mom’s little heart would be sad if it didn’t “stay in the family.” What’d I do? I begrudgingly took it, shoved it into a corner, and I guess when I pass, someone can pitch it I guess!

My final thing I’m going to talk about from this article’s list is something that as soon as I saw it on the list, I was like, “Oh yes - I’m totally going to end on this one.” It’ll be hilarious to talk about on here – and I totally hope the client that did this in her estate plan hears this episode. She’ll think it’s sooooo cool she made a subtle appearance on my podcast! Anyway, so another thing on the list from the article was … drumroll please … Christmas decorations!

First, I think it’s hilarious how specific it is about what holiday – and it’s really funny because of the story I’ll share in a second. Anyway, the article primarily talks about modern Christmas decorations – so, think artificial Christmas trees, decorations straight-up from, say, Hobby Lobby or whatever; and actually the article talks about how there is, sort of, a market for older, antique Christmas decorations, but to be honest, I’d say that’s probably going to be a dying thing too. I could be wrong, but from my experience, both professionally and personally, I just witness lot of clients’ kids and grandkids (and my own loved ones) just not care about that kind of antique-y stuff, so if there’s a market and it stays, great. Though, I won’t hold my breath that’ll it stay.

So, my story! I have a lovely client-turned-friend that has joked with her daughter that at her passing, the daughter has to take her Christmas decorations. Like, it’s turned into a whole joke at this point because the daughter has told her Mom over-and-over that she does NOT want the Christmas decorations. So, when I did her estate plan, she was telling me this story about the daughter and the Christmas decorations, and asked, “Can we put something funny in my Trust, like, a specific bequest to my daughter of the Christmas decorations?!” I was like, “Heck yes – absolutely we can.” I’m going to read exactly how it’s written in this woman’s estate plan because it’s HILARIOUS! It says, “As soon as practicable after the death of [Client Name], the Trustee shall distribute all of the Client’s Christmas decorations to her daughter, [Client’s Daughter’s Name]. Teehee, Your Mom loves you!” And they say estate planning is going to be awful, boring, and a pain – psh! That’s because you’re not working with my firm! Ha!

Anyway, so with this article and all of this episode and the stories I’ve shared, am I saying it is ALL valueless? NO! Absolutely not. But more often than not, the person who owns the item thinks the item is worth MORE than what it actually is – whether that value is sentimental value (like my Grandma’s rocking chair – I didn’t want it!) or monetary value (like chinaware and crystal – it’s usually quite valueless anymore). Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, that’s just, kind of, the current trend among people that are currently inheriting – most just don’t place the same value on the items that their loved one did. You know what, could things go back up in monetary value? Sure! Could more people love and appreciate things of high sentimental value? Sure!

Alrighty, let’s wrap this episode up -- next week’s topic is on estate planning of the rich and the famous – on that episode, we’re going to dive into what’s happened estate-wise following the unexpected passing of Sonny Bono. While he was only 62 at the time of his passing, he actually passed away from a skiing accident. For my young Legal Tea Listeners, if you don’t know who Sonny is, just look him up, okay? Ha! So, tune on in next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners, to join as I dive into Sonny’s estate – Talk to you then and stay well!


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