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Ask Chuck: Passing On Treasures To Family

by Chuck Bentley December 14, 2018

Dear Chuck,

I have SO MANY possessions. I inherited a lot from precious relatives and purchased items through the years to fill the large homes we lived in with our many children. I’ve had a rich life. I’m now widowed and need to downsize. This Christmas I want to leave a tangible inheritance with my family while I’m able to see them enjoy it. Is this a good plan? How should I do this?

Downsizing Dilemma

Dear Downsizing,

Christmas is a perfect time to leave an early inheritance and begin downsizing! In fact, it may be the best time of year, especially if you can gather your family at your home.

When my wife, Ann, was a child, she remembers special times at her great-aunt’s large Victorian home filled with many beautiful things. One holiday, her great-aunt let the young great nieces and nephews pick something from her china cabinet. Ann still has the crystal dog she chose that day.

Ask Chuck passing on family treasures

It is easy to accumulate a lot of possessions through the years. I look at my own house and understand your dilemma. I am sentimental, so I’ve held onto things that are very special to me. My wife is the opposite and would rather pass things on to bless others or just get rid of clutter. Combining our attitudes, I believe that letting your family shop your house at Christmas is a way to bless them and free you from having to make difficult decisions. If you do not need the income from selling your possessions then passing them on to family members who could enjoy them is a blessing for all of you.

Create a Process

Type a list of the possessions that you are ready to pass down. Going through beloved items can be an emotional experience and may feel overwhelming. Itemizing your list is a great way to stay organized and force yourself to start somewhere. If you have sentimental attachments to any of the items, treat this exercise like a way to start saying “goodbye”. Once an item is on the list, don’t take it off!

Invite the family to breakfast or coffee at your home during the holiday season. Explain what you have decided to do, your motives and the method of handling it. Pray together, then draw numbers to determine the progression of choosing items.

Allow each person to select what they want in the order of the numbers drawn. Use the list to show them what their options are. Take time with each family member to answer their questions about the items or tell them something about its history, what it has meant to you, and how you acquired it.

Then make sure to arrange for everyone to move things out by a specific day!

Know What Works For You

The process works in families that love and respect one another, but complicated family dynamics (which we all have!) may change how you want to handle the process. What works for our family will not work in every situation.

If having everyone shop your treasures together presents challenges, it may be best to assign the items you want to pass down and have each child come to your home on a separate occasion to make their decision and move the items. If that is not possible, pre-select what you want to pass down and schedule meetings to see if the children are interested in what you have decided to give.

Another way to handle it is to have each child and grandchild tell you which items in your home mean the most to them. Perhaps they’ve already done that. One of our sons expressed his appreciation for a grandmother’s painting and she joyfully gave it to him when he purchased a home.

Advantages of Leaving an Early Inheritance

  • Monetary Boost: A financial gift can help loved ones fund an education, pay off debt, buy a house, or start a business.
  • Avoid Inheritance Tax: This tax is a percentage of the asset’s value and varies by state. Research the law and limitations governing gifts to family members.
  • Avoid Gift Tax: An early inheritance can be subject to a gift tax, according to the IRS. You can avoid taxation by adhering to certain rules.

Consider a Family Bank

Another option that can bring your family joy is to sell your possessions for the best possible price and place the funds in a trust that operates like a family bank. The children and grandchildren can access the funds by adhering to the rules or governance that you establish in advance. For instance, if they borrow from the family bank for a down payment or tuition loan, you can determine how and when it must be paid back. This can allow even a small estate to help your family for many generations to come.

Leave a Legacy Not Just Stuff

An inheritance should be richer than the passing on of money and possessions. In addition to your plans, allow me a few other possible “inheritances” for your consideration. I have made a list of some of the ways you can leave a legacy worth more than any possessions an heir will receive:

  • Leave a legacy of righteousness in the way you conduct your life.
  • Leave a legacy of love in the way you treat others.
  • Leave a legacy of grace in the way you forgive faults.
  • Leave a legacy of faithfulness in the way that you love God.
  • Leave a legacy of joy in the way you endure hardships.
  • Leave a legacy of generosity in the way you freely give.
  • Leave a legacy of character in the way you live out Biblical values.
  • Leave a legacy of servanthood in the way you humbly care for others.

This Christmas, may His love guide you in your decisions. When you decide on an option, please let me know how it goes. Merry Christmas to you!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)


Originally published on the Christian Post December 14, 2018. 

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