Things We Find Left Behind

Treasure is in the eye of the beholder.  What one person holds dear, another wants nothing to do with.  This is true between elderly parents and their middle-aged children, and even grandchildren.  The Depression Era generation doesn’t let go of much.  They take great pride in their possessions, especially the ladies with their ornate silver plate pieces, painted china, and etched crystal that they cherished in another time and place.

We find a ton of handwritten notes intended for those left behind.  We find them tucked inside vases, taped to the back of china or paintings, taped under sculptures and figurines.  We find loose notes in desk drawers.  Sometimes, we even find the notes laying right where the author left them before being struck with infirmity or death.

These notes are meant to guide the loved ones after their death and they often include a myriad of information: the history behind the item, the name of the person they are leaving it to, and my personal favorite … what they think it is worth.  Many of these notes have yellowed with age and some are barely decipherable.  To complicate the matter, this particular generation has a tendency to change their minds frequently, often creating multiple notes with mixed messages (probably depending on who ticked them off most recently – according to the children who read the notes).  It is also possible they may forget and start all over.

Here is an example of one I just found:

Dated 1977

“In my antique chest, with the items I intend to give to Susan and Ralph.  Top shelf – “Boy and two goats” Royal Copenhagen figurine and female Hummel. – $2,000 value

Second shelf – Royal Doulton Toby mugs and Hummel plates – $1,800 value

Third shelf – Carlsbad, Austria dish and crystal duck and cat – $300 value

To Robert and Sylvia – In the hutch – the smaller Hummel figurines, Venetian glass fish, crystal candle holder and small Royal Doulton figurine. – $1,500 value”

The list is quite extensive and goes on for a long time.  Here’s what we need to know from this story:

  1. These items were never distributed.
  2. They were never distributed because no one wanted them.
  3. They ended up in my hands to sell for the family and they will split the proceeds.

Do notes help?  I think sometimes they do, especially when they offer personal history and IF you want to keep these items.  Notes can also be removed or taken by unscrupulous heirs-to-be, and often we find more than one version of their notes, which claim different people can have the same item.

How do you handle that one?  You write a formal addendum or document to place with your Will or Trust, and make sure there is only one copy, not multiples.  Ask your attorney how to do this.  Better yet, consider giving it away or selling these items, if the children don’t want them, before any of this takes place.

From my experience, many times the intentions of these notes are never carried out.

You can have the best intentions but if they are not carried through, it’s a moot point.

If you want someone to have somethings special of yours, give it to them while you are still able to do so.

Somewhere along the line, we have to break the habit of waiting until someone is “gone” to deal with all of this.  Granted some people prefer it that way, but more and more, we are seeing a trend of people giving away or selling their items before they pass, to make it easier on their loved ones left behind.

Personally, I think the best notes we can leave behind are thoughts of joy and love, and not necessarily who gets what and how much items are worth.  My favorite “possession” from my late mother is a letter she sent me stating how proud she is of me and how I have chosen to serve people, and may God bless me abundantly for doing so.  It is a deeply personal note and one that I will always cherish.  I would gladly let go of the material stuff I inherited from her, for this one note and memories of happy times.  That’s the REAL inheritance!

©2014 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at

5 thoughts on “Things We Find Left Behind

  1. Excellent post. My mom wrote these little notes too about family treasures, but the sibling who was executor arbitrarily decided on an auction. “If you want something, come and buy it,” she said. Many, many hard feelings and no one knows were some of the items ended up. Most had little monetary value but were things special to her or passed down in the family.
    The whole thing made me very sad.

  2. What a beautiful post. I have to say that I agree about the material possessions. But I do have a question about the sentimental stuff – I’m hoping you have some advice to offer.

    My mother recently passed away. She died intestate and my brother has been appointed administrator of the estate. My mother and I were not on the best of terms, but when my brother went through her things he found a number of letters that she wrote to me but never mailed. Here’s the thing – my brother won’t let me have them, at least not until “the estate is settled” which, at the rate we’re going could be years. His claim is that we don’t own any of the estate property yet, so I cannot have the letters. I don’t want to start a battle with my brother, but this seems ridiculous to me. Do you have any advice?

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