Fighting Over the Same Heirloom

Problem: Two of my siblings are fighting over the same heirloom.  How do you divide and keep it fair?

SOLUTION:  When two or more are arguing over the same item(s), you have a few options.  Beware, not all options will meet with approval.  Begin by getting a personal property appraisal on the items that the heirs desire, including the items that are the subject of the fighting.  This objective, third-party person will assign values that are fair, since they have no interest in the items.

Try to keep everything as equitable as possible to keep the peace!  This also depends on what the will/trust specifies.  If Sue gets a $5,000 item and Barbara gets a $200 item, that is not equitable.  Arrangements must be made, whether in cash assets or other items, to make up for that $4,800 deficit.

  • One sibling can offer to buy the item from the others and take it out of their inheritance, if there is one.  The price would be based on the appraised value.
  • If this item has significantly more value than other items in the estate, then that one choice will have to suffice until others get their pick of items and arrive at the approximate value.
  • If two people want a china set or silver flatware service, can it be divided?  Sure, but know that from the perspective of an estate expert, it is not advisable.  If this set were to be sold one day, it would be worth more to a collector/buyer if the set were intact and complete.
  • One heir simply “turns the other cheek” and forfeits to the other.
  • The two can write up an agreement and share the item, if it is practical to share.  However, this only postpones that inevitable decision later in life.  When the siblings die, the buck has been passed to their children to contend with the same issue.
  • If no one can agree and no one is willing to give in, the executor should consider selling the item through an appropriate selling venue and split the profits between all the heirs.  Yes, the siblings will be upset, but that is more acceptable than resenting each other for the rest of their lives.  If they remain in a tug-of-war, no solution provided is going to work.
  • What would mom or dad want?  Would they approve of this tension?  In most cases, the answer is a resounding NO.  They would be disappointed.  They trusted you to make decisions that they probably should have made when they were alive, but for whatever reason, they didn’t.  You can’t go back; you can only go forward.  Go forward, knowing what your parents would have wanted, and be fair to each other.
  • If nothing else works, you could always flip a coin and let the odds decide for you.

Realize that these situations can be highly charged with tension and emotion.  Everyone is not going to be happy 100% of the time.  There are very few instances where everything comes out flawless.  Spare the relationships by keeping the peace.

©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

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