How to Select the Best Heirloom

This may be hard for some to believe, but when a loved one dies, the things I see are deplorable.  Children, siblings, extended family, friends, and neighbors descend on the estate like flies.  Seriously?  A life just ended, and this is what people think about .. the stuff and the money.

In my career, I have truly seen the unthinkable; people hire me to uncover the most valuable items so they can choose those items before their siblings arrive (as I later found out).  Children sneaking in the estate before the funeral, and even while the loved one was dying, to “help themselves.”  I have seen neighbors or long-term friends approach the estate as if they were entitled, which makes me ill.  I have seen families offer the caregiver a memento; then the caregiver uses their personal key to empty the house, literally, over the weekend, knowing the children are not there.

When did people get so calloused and mean-spirited?  It is very hard to understand people’s actions.  Everyone always seems to get greedy, hard feelings and resentment follow, and in the long run, no one is happy.

Here are a few helpful hints from The Estate Lady® to guide you in selecting an heirloom.

Selecting an heirloom(s) from an estate is a multi-fold process in your mind and in reality.  First, think minimalist.  Do not take just for the sake of taking.  Remember that anything you take ultimately becomes a challenge for your children in the future.  In making these decisions:

  • Keep in mind that selections are ruled by emotions/sentimentality/nostalgic ties to the person who just passed.  Examples would be photographs, their eyeglasses, a favorite perfume … small mementos that have little value to anyone but you.  NOTE: This does not mean pack up the entire estate and keep all small items.  It means be prudent and hold on to smaller items that you truly cherish.
  • At some point, the emotional side must give way to logical consideration and reality.  Separate the emotional from the realistic and see practical side.
    • Will I really use it or can my sibling use it more?
    • Will I have space for it?
    • Is the cost to transport/ship too high to get it to my home?  Don’t expect the estate to pay for shipping; arrange that on your own.
    • Do I have to put it into storage?  Think twice; storage gets very expensive.
  • Consider the condition of the item.  Older items can have serious problems: insect eggs in antique rugs, items in poor condition now unusable, mold on items, odors from smoking/animals/mildew.  You don’t want to bring these into your home, especially if you have allergies.

When our mom died, and my brother and I went back to their home to sort through things, I reached for this little gold tone frog with green eyes and solid perfume inside.WP_003000  I bought it for mom when I was 10 years old.  I laughed every time I saw it, wondering why she kept it.  One day I asked her.  “Mom, why do you keep this silly little frog?  I paid $1 for it when I was little.”  She simply replied, “It always made me smile; I remember when you gave it to me.”  Don’t you know I had to have that little frog?

This is how you make solid, knowledgeable selections from the estate.  Not based on worth, because money means nothing.  Chances are pretty good your children won’t want that 9 ft. tall Victorian secretary.

The value is in the heart and it will guide you!  Turn the other cheek, be polite to each other, and put the memory of the person you lost before yourself to honor them.  Friends and neighbors should step back, allow the family time to grieve, sort and make their selections first.  Friends should not request anything unless the children offer it to them.  If you can’t have a particular item, at least take a photograph and remember it that way.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the item you want.

©2015 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

4 thoughts on “How to Select the Best Heirloom

  1. Great post as usual Julie! The one thing I took from my Mom’s home when she died was a yelloware mixing bowl that she and I used when baking together when I was little. I still use it when I bake and used it with my now married daughter and hopefully one day she will use it with her daughter/son (due in June!). It means so much to me and I remember all those fun times baking with Mom every time I use it and she has been gone now for 11 years. It’s all about the heart, not the bank. Thanks for a great reminder.
    Timesavers Estate Sales

  2. I just discovered your blog. Your common sense posts about valuations, weariness of market place, etc are spot on. But what I love are your musings about relationships, living a real legacy, and other things of the heart. I have read back to mid-2013 -I’m thanking God for what and how you say-what-you-say.

    1. Gail, every so often, I am blessed to receive comments such as yours. I am literally up to my neck in writing at the moment; I am in the process of creating more ebooks and “How To’s and other Guides” for the client/consumer, as they need to hear it from a source that has seen it and lived it. But when I get fatigued from writing, someone like you writes these beautiful words that act as fuel for me to continue…I call them “God-nudges.” I really need one right about now and am so grateful you were led to my blogs! Best, Julie

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