Avoiding Inheritance Squabbles

A realtor can help with this for sure. In our case ( recent death of final parent ), our market, like many right now, has low inventory and we were approached by the buyer. It was a downsize for my parents 12 years ago but still 3000 sq ft. and after 12 years, it needs to be painted, new appliances etc – realtor gave us all numbers, buyer happy to purchase as is, cash and do the work themselves. We got lucky.

We will be closing on my in-laws’ house next week. (Fingers crossed!) It was 50+ years of accumulated stuff. (My in-laws are still living. They live in an apartment for seniors here in town.) We let the realtor tell us what to do. They do this all of the time in a specific area/market and will know what’s best. We also hired people to just come take everything away after we picked through what the various families wanted. (It was little to nothing.) We hired our own person, but the realty company could have done that too.

The only major thing we did was pull up the 20-30 year old carpet and refinish the hardwood floors underneath. Everything else we left - and the bathrooms haven’t been seriously upgraded in 50+ years! The kitchen cabinets were original too. But in our area and in that neighborhood, that was to be expected.

My father was the executor of his mother’s estate (father was already deceased) but the sibling who lived nearby had already sold literally every piece of furniture and the house was empty. Much drama ensued.

Then he was executor of his aunt’s estate. She died unmarried, with no heirs. Because she was terminally ill, she had time to give away things, and did indeed have anything “valuable” appraised. He then created a huge spreadsheet, sent it to her six nieces/nephews. They marked anything they might like. They marked ONE item they felt they couldn’t bear to leave behind. He reconciled any multiple asks, arranged for everything left to go at auction. The enormous NE home was left to the cousin who was a real estate agent as her “share”. Because this was all arranged by her, with his help, there was little to argue about.

Value is odd. Her very old, original patina whatever Boston furniture wasn’t worth much. The garden table in the garage was worth a fortune. As were some stamps nobody wanted, and turned out to be very rare. We have a similar spreadsheet arrangement for him and my mom already, with a yearly update meeting. It makes them feel better, and we are happy to help.

@TatinG I’m of a totally different opinion about updates, although a lot depends on your time frame and local market. In most RE markets today, homes sell extremely quickly due to low inventory, low rates, and high demand. You can probably sell as-is if priced accordingly. I also believe Realtors are not fully “independent”. The more changes you make to your home, the faster it usually sells. That’s ultimately in the best interest of the realtor as well.

Personally, we would love to find a home that has not been updated, but priced accordingly. I’m so tired of flipped houses, at least in this part of the world (PNW). Most (not all) use sub-par materials, and they all tend to look alike and will quickly be dated (imho). Think grey new or existing painted cabinets, small mosaic glass tile backsplashes, painted white trim, grey walls, wood-look laminate flooring.

The problem I’ve seen is that so many homes we’ve seen that have not been flipped, are asking near updated prices. And if not, developers snatch them up. If I’m personally updating to sell a house, I would also not select the highest grade materials. (i.e. a less effecient furnace or HWH replacement for example). So I know that when looking at homes for sale that appear to be recently updated, that we may need to change items sooner rather than later.

The caveat is “priced accordingly”. If you’re willing to flip it yourselves, and can get a huge price difference for doing so, that’s great. It all depends on how much it will cost (both time and $$), to make the changes.


My MIL has made it very clear that everything in her house is to be sold and the proceeds included in her estate. She won’t even consider requests from anyone for anything in her house…which is really unfortunate. And believe me….nothing is worth as much as she thinks it’s worth. She claims a mid century modern Danish modern sofa is worth $10,000 because it’s signed. It’s not…we have all looked it up. And it doesn’t help that one leg is broken and it needs repair. One grandchild would like it…but will have to pay for it at an estate sale. It’s really too bad.

She did ask her kids if there was anything they wanted years ago when they downsized. DH is the eldest of the kids. He put three things on the list. She told him he couldn’t have any of them. But he was getting a grandfather clock (which another sib wanted…we have no interest in owning it).

In her case, it’s all about control.


This is a bit of a sticky wicket when you aren’t selling a home on your own behalf, but as executor for an estate. Time IS money in an estate situation- I’ve got neighbors who have held on for dear life to get every penny out of a parents house, and in a snowy climate with what can be severe winters- that’s not always a sound decision. You are paying for snow removal-- people need to get up the front walk and use the driveway. You are paying for heat. You will pay to unclog the gutters come March and replace cracked shingles. So just keeping the house in working order (forget upgrades) costs money- which the estate is paying, not you. You had better know the market really well before you decide to upgrade, hoping for a higher price since just the core maintenance costs of an unoccupied house will cut into the proceeds…

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@blossom I totally agree with you! That’s what meant to say: either price accordingly, or be willing to incur the cost (of time and money!).

My in-laws asked all of us (their kids and spouses) to put our names on things we liked and might want someday. SIL took this to heart and left many sticky notes one time when she was in town. She did not mean to appear greedy, but my H got a little alarmed and started putting a lot of his own sticky notes on things. It’s now become a joke, but I think we are actually only partially joking. Luckily my in-laws are more than fair and the items with both names on them are more sentimental than valuable. My H started to think, hey, I grew up with these items, and SIL did not, why does she think she can claim them. But to be fair, she was asked to designate items she likes. The truth is we won’t have room for too many things so H will have to settle for a few favorites someday when that time comes.

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Regarding updating a house for sale-friends recently sold the house I had managed as a rental for many years. The realtor, despite the hot market had a long list of projects to polish the place for sale. In a middling market the suggestions would have made sense. In my opinion, in this red hot market, updates would have been a waste of time, money and resources. Fortunately there was a pending sale sign in front of the house for 6 weeks while the tenant moved out. An offer far north of the probable sale price was in hand before the place was officially ready to be shown, and all that work was avoided. The new owner gutted the place immediately on his own dime.


My other always had a thorny relationship with one sister, chalk & cheese those two, and that sister happened to be the one who always asked for stuff. My mother found herself having to watch what she said her entire life as the slightest negative comment about anything had sis volunteering to take it. I found out probably 15-20 years after the incident, that my sister asked for something and my mother told her that I, and my kids, had already, “put our names on it.” Suffice to say that both sisters thought I had literally put sticky notes on stuff, which I had never done. Thanks, Mom. :grimacing:

Then when I presided over FILs estate sale, I was walking though the night before, things were already priced, and I saw several items that actually did have sticky notes (per FILs request) just priced and placed out with the rest, I found myself making a few calls to others to see if they still wanted those items.

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Timely comic today:


Like @thumper1, we got a grandfather clock we didn’t ask for. We figured out how to work it in when we recently redecorated … sometimes you have to take one for the team!

My mother never got over the fact that her brother’s wife took a mirror that my mom had wanted after my grandmother died. She was angry that my aunt didn’t ask … she just took. I honestly never understood, because I have never been that attached to a “thing.” But my mom obviously had a very strong attachment to the mirror, and because it wasn’t worth a bunch of money, it was sentimental. I carry that memory with me, and it was helpful when splitting my parents’ stuff with my brothers & my in laws’ stuff with H’s S. If I am not attached, but another family member is, then they are welcome to it.


Ha, I would think a pump organ would be at the bottom of anyone’s wish list! My parents have my great-aunt’s. It is so huge. I hope they find a buyer, because my sister and I have no interest in it.


My mother passed last month and WSJ suggested this for my brother today. Creepy internet. But possibly helpful:

Estate litigation attorneys can tell all kinds of stories about the fights people have over their parents’ personal property. One of my favorites is the one about a moose head. The family literally spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting over it. Another expensive fight was over a Christmas tree ornament.

The biggest fights can be over photo albums.

Readers out there…Don’t let this be your family. The moose head isn’t worth it. The pictures can be scanned.

Honestly, the fights aren’t really about the stuff. They are about a family that lost their glue when the parent dies. Sometimes the fight is the only thing that keeps the family connected.


And sometimes the fights are about re-litigating a childhood which one kid remembers as “magical” and the siblings remember “Favorite Child/Golden Boy/Can do no wrong”.

It’s worth giving up the moose head or the dining room set or the sterling silver to keep peace- but it’s also worth trying to recall if the sibling that’s fighting so hard for something so trivial felt slighted for a few decades and is now trying to even out the scales.


Good point, Blossom, my sibling who has wanted the most is also that one who self-estranged decades ago. She also wanted their ashes. My other sibling and I commented that sis could not stand to come spend time with them, or at least made no effort to do so, so the ashes and personal items must be part of her healing. I don’t discount or disparage her need to heal, there is some stuff that happened, it’s too bad healing could not happen before Mom & Dad died, but, ya know, if no one is going to change who they are and how they feel, there may not be much common ground to find.

I have seen it from both sides, my one sibling is definitely self-removed, but for reasons; in another family, I can see that across 4 kids, one can do no wrong, one can do no right, the other two are in the middle with one closer to each side; it’s weird, but I can see that the kid who cannot win with Mom & Dad is also treated differently; perhaps due to choices made in teens & 20s, perhaps just due to personalities and innate connection.

:100:. The third scenario is the kid who never fully launched, lives with parents, and can’t vacate the house and can’t afford it, either. Lots of resentment comes from that, especially when that kid did a ton of the end of life in home care and the other child (often very successful and financially secure) lives out of state.


Seems like that could easily be solved by copying (or even taking photos of) the desired photos.

My grandmother had a pen collection. We’re not talking nice pens, we’re talking pens taken from whatever businesses happened to be giving them out, pens from places she’s been, etc. She had MANY. That’s the thing my mother’s family fought over. She also had a ring that was suppose to go to me, as the oldest grandchild. One of my aunt’s wanted it, and I let her keep it. It was not worth much - less than $500 for sure, but it had sentimental value.
You never know what families will fight over.