Avoiding Inheritance Squabbles

On a recent visit home, my sister started claiming some rather valuable midcentury modern furniture for her daughter, in anticipation of the inevitable estate liquidation someday. A houseful, in fact. Now I googled the value of some of these pieces and they are more than I thought.

The will divides things 50/50 between my sister and I. I am executor. My inclination is to appraise the valuable items and deduct that amount from my sister’s half of the money if her daughter wants them. I think that would be my duty as executor.

If she took items of little value I wouldn’t care. It wouldn’t be worth the appraisal. But when we are talking thousands of dollars, it isn’t trivial.

Doesn’t that sound like the fairest way?

Is your parent still alive?

My spouse (an attorney) is listed as executor of his parents’ estate, to be divided 50/50 between the two siblings. His plan has always been to have the entirety of the house and contents appraised to help ensure a fair and equitable distribution. His sibling has already indicated strong interest in some pieces of furniture and other items, as executor his biggest goal is to achieve the equitable distribution his parents want.

I would suggest have the entire home/contents appraised for the same reason when it is time for your sister and you to divide the estate. She can then have first choice of those items if she so chooses to have those counted towards her 50% of the estate.

You may want to be prepared for your parents to at some point choose to gift those items to their grandchild before their demise (if that is something they might do). I would recommend not thinking of their estate as a whole (or part) in terms of value until and unless both have passed.


How about allowing heirs “purchase” any specific items not specifically listed in the will/trust out of their shares of the estate? If more than one want a given item, highest bidder wins.

Items worth appraising or which have a readily findable quick-sale value (e.g. vehicles for which one can get a quick-sale value at a local CarMax or other dealers) could have the quick-sale value as the minimum bid.


I am trying to pave the ground work so when dad passes away, the way distributions will be handled will be understood and agreed upon and not sprung on her during a grieving time.


My two brothers and I were the only heirs. The brother who lived close by wanted the furniture. The other two of us lived far away and were happy to have him take it. (Nice stuff, early American mostly.) No idea of its value. The bros had no interest in the jewelry so I offered it niece and my daughter and I kept some. I really wanted the Singer Featherweight so I took that. No one felt shortchanged. Nobody kept count. We sold the house and we each got a third.


I think your proposal is a good one. And I second @beebee3 about discussing having the house contents appraised, but that might be odd to do it while your dad is still in the house and if you need one for estate tax purposes the values have to be as of the date of death so you’d need to have a second appraisal. I’d also keep notes regarding the pieces she’s indicated interested in for her daughter and once the pieces are appraised they should be included in calculating her portion of the estate.

The issues are 1. If the pieces are “gifted” prior to death (either explicitly or your sister just asks if she’s can take them) 2. The pieces are removed after death but prior to the estate appraisal assuming you need to do one. 3. How to value the pieces if no estate appraisal is done because it isn’t needed for estate or inheritance tax purposes.

As executor you do have complete control over the estate and the fiduciary duty to distribute the assets in accordance with the will. However, I’ve has many friends who, as executors, ran into issues with siblings removing items, cars etc…from the parents’ home either prior to their passing or just after. It can get a bit awkward.

I’ll also add that furniture often isn’t appraised very high for estate purposes because people don’t want to have to pay taxes and the appraisers know it.


When H’s sister died, she left everything to H and His brother to split 50/50. H declined any interest or value in the dental practice his brother and sister shared (technically H could have claimed 50% of goodwill & net value).

They had to figure out how to divide the real estate. Brother lives in same area as sis, while we live in HI. We said to us it made most sense for brother to keep sister’s CA house and contents and H to keep the HI family house & contents (values were fairly similar). They both offered each other any contents that anyone cared about. Our S requested and got 2 tables shipped to him (he paid fi4 the shipping). Sister also gifted S with her car, which S had shipped across the country to his place

No one counted the value of furnishings or anything else against the 50/50 split. The brothers were happy and are still very close and glad there was no nickel & diming. In the scheme of things, both brothers didn’t care about getting that much into the weeds.


Maybe your sister wants her daughter to have some of the furniture because she has an appreciation for it or it has more sentimental value to her than it does to you. Is that a possibility?

We have lots of old Stickley handed down from husband’s family . I would be very happy to have either son start taking it on . Married son’s wife seems to like a more contemporary style so doubtful they will want anything major. They already have a small Stickley chair we gave them and a couple old antique small tables of unknown origin but I doubt they will want any of the bigger pieces (settle, dining room stuff, etc).

Furniture trends do come and go and so does value of antiques. Stickley , for instance, does not get the prices now that it would have gotten when it was hotter a few years ago. Any appraisal would need to reflect current market at time of death. And many times, things don’t fetch as much as you think they might.


I’ve honestly never known anyone to have things like furniture appraised before distribution to family, except in the case of an expensive grand piano.
My husband has 3 siblings, and they tried to honor each other’s specific wishes, while each getting similar things (or not). Sis wanted dining room furniture. Others already had it. They did “round robin” with artwork (nothing valuable), Corning Ware, lamps, and other things.
I was left part of an estate, but I was not a blood relative. I tried to always let the family person have “first dibs” on things, other than a few sentimental things not worth much). Monetarily, I wound up with much less than I could have, but I didn’t need a thing and the other person knew what was valuable (paintings worth thousands, for example). It’s fine and not worth losing sleep over.
I’ve known some people to never speak again after estates are settled, or to be very angry. Sometimes considering every dollar just isn’t that impt.


Totally agree. All parents gone and no major squabbles. Money has been known to tear siblings apart so do whatever you can to minimize that. Good luck!

1 Like

The people getting the furniture don’t pay taxes, only the estate would pay. Unless the entire estate is worth more than $10M, there won’t be any taxes.

Yes the estate would get the items appraised if there’s the possibility of estate tax or inheritance tax obligations (depending on when the person died, for example the year my mom passed away the federal estate tax exemption was $1million, when my dad passed it was $5.5million so the total exemption for his estate was $6.5 million not $11+ million). Some states have inheritance taxes. They’re sometimes paid by the estate but technically they’re owed by the recipient.

Some states have estate taxes as well.

Do your kids also want this furniture? If not, I might let it go. I would be very happy to have one of my nieces or nephews have our furniture if my kids end up not wanting it. It has been in the family for 3 generations at this point and I would love to see it remain with someone in the family. We will sell it of course if no one wants it but I love to see things handed down through generations.

More younger people these days seem to be more minimalist and are avoiding taking on family heirlooms. I think it’s great when someone in the family wants to keep things in the family .


If the furniture is valuable, it would probably be good to get it appraised for insurance purposes anyway.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and it is so much better to have this discussion now with your sister, in my opinion. You don’t want there to be hard feelings or misunderstandings. It is hard enough to lose a parent, and the job of executor can be rougher than people think when family isn’t seeing things the same way. Your sister may not know this issue is a sensitive one for you, so maybe ask her help to figure out what is fair?


Another way to approach this other than through a current appraisal then a subsequent deduction is to just aside specific items between you and your sister now. If you have a good relationship, what you set aside now will reflect your respective utility and sentimental value in an equitable manner - “you choose 1, I choose 1”. On the other hand, if there is great economic disparity in the specific items that will be divided instead of liquidated, you probably should go through an appraisal of some kind of those items.

1 Like

When our parents died, my sister and I hired an estate sale company to do the sale (higher end). I believe they took 40% of the profits, but is was a ton of work for them to set up. We also had to remove items they didn’t want in the sale. Before they came out to give estimates, we let family and friends know to come and take whatever they wanted, silver, artwork, crystal, furniture, knowing at the end we’d get pennies on the dollar. We knew our parents would love nothing more than to know the items they cherished were appreciated and loved, I love seeing paintings and furniture in other’s homes still now that the house has been sold. My dad’s grandfather clock that was his dad’s was priced at over $1000 and was picked up by the secondary company that bought the lot of what didn’t sell. I think we made about $6000 in profit, our main goal was to get the home emptied before it could be fixed up and staged. Unfortunately young people setting up homes aren’t looking for or appreciating these furnishings.

1 Like

Are the grandchildren in the will? If not, why is your sister claiming anything for just one of the grandchildren? I think it’s odd for her to claim your niece has the right to choose objects from your parents’ home before you do, but if that’s what you’re doing then all the grandchildren should be allowed to choose pieces one at a time in a round robin style until everything is gone. I don’t believe your sister would like that option.

I think that the fairest way would be to have it appraised and count the value as part of your sister’s share. If they’re valuable pieces shouldn’t they have been appraised when your parents bought home insurance? You can’t stop your dad from giving them to her while he’s alive, but as executor I’d let your sister that calling dibs isn’t going to be an option.


But appraised value doesn’t mean they’d sell for that amount. My wedding ring is appraised and insured, I doubt I could sell it for that much. The contents of my parents home were appraised at around $30,000 ( the minimum the estate sale company would bother with). I think the amount the sale made in total was $10,000, of course not everything sold. I wouldn’t expect a family member to pay the maximum amount of the appraised value. I have friends who enjoy estate sale shopping, they pop in the last day and purchase items for 10% of the listed price.


IMO, it depends on the relationship you have with your siblings. It’s just my brother and I and when we went to clear out my parents’ condo, we were very fair in evening up valuables but for some stuff, it was a matter of one of us just not wanting it. At one point my brother’s partner was getting upset because she felt like they were taking “too much”. My perspective was I’d rather they have the stuff and enjoy it than selling it so I could have “my share”. At one point my brother was wanting me to take more jewelry but my mom had already given me a number of pieces before she died so I took that into account and gave him more for his daughter. Same with the china which I didn’t want but my niece adored.

I would say there were only one or two things that I would have kept for us but my brother wanted too and I think it’s just more important that it’s in the family rather than which one of us has it in our home.