Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

Personal Property – How to handle its distribution

The subject of personal property is an interesting one.  While it seems that large financial accounts would create more discord among siblings; it is the distribution of personal property that creates the long lasting rifts.

It is easy to divide money equally among a number of individuals – it’s a matter of simple math.   It is far more difficult to equitably divide personal property.  There is one set of grandma’s china, one antique leather chair from grandfather, several hunting rifles. How can this be divided equally among two or three children?  Should it be done by fair market value?  Should appraisals be obtained?  What if all children want the chair and none want the china?

For this reason, it is best to address the issue of personal property directly and in advance. 

First, ask your loved ones what it is they desire.  You may find that there are no disputes – they may all have their eyes on different items.  Get ready though – the things you think are so valuable may not be wanted by anyone.

Sentimental value is in the eye of the beholder.  Your emotional attachment to items of personal property in all likelihood are linked to your memories of the individual that owed the item – grandma’s china brings back images of Thanksgiving dinner around her table.  Your children may not have those same memories.  While they certainly respect their ancestors, they may only know them through photographs and stories.  They may not see grandmother’s sewing table as a treasured heirloom – but instead an item of old furniture that doesn’t fit with their lifestyle.

If there are disputes among children concerning the distribution of personal property – they all want the same items – then devise a plan for distribution.  Either decide ahead of time who gets which items and write it down, or come up with a method of having them select at the time of your death. 

Clients of mine have come up with several that I will share.

  • By birth order, or by drawing straws, have individuals select items in a round-robin method.  This places the burden on the child to decide whether they select the item with the most sentimental value to them, or of the greatest fair market value. 
  • Auction among the family is another popular method.  Each item is bid on by the family members.  The individual who bids the most, gets the item.  All the bid money goes into a pot and is then equally divided among the group at the end.  Those that want more personal property may actually have to pay and those that do not may actually receive money in the end.
  • Yard sale or auction to the public is another way of having the property distributed.  Each child has the same opportunity as the third parties present to purchase the items at fair market value.


Whatever method you decide upon, come up with a method for personal property distribution.  While you won’t be there to see the disagreements, you want to assure that the distribution of your treasures does not result in life-long disagreements among your children.