Dividing assets among siblings
March 2, 2020

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Q: Over the last several years my parents would talk with me and my siblings, asking if there was any specific items in the house we wanted. They met with an attorney and put the house and investments in a trust. Unfortunately they never passed on the list regarding who should inherit which possessions and we can’t find their notes. My father has passed away and my mother will soon be putting the house up for sale. Mom has cognitive limitations so she can’t give help with this. The attorney who manages the estate has stated he will be responsible for selling the house but it is up to us to divide the household possessions. Do you have any suggestions on how this can be fairly done?

A: We have received questions along this line numerous times in the past. Even when family members have been close the division of personal property does not always run smoothly. Assets can have both a monetary value and/or a sentimental value thus emotions sometimes come into the equation.

One option for dividing possessions is to take turns choosing items. In an attempt to even out the playing field change the order of who chooses first. This is as simple as rotating…1,2,3,4 next 2,3,4,1 followed by 3,4,1,2 and 4,1,2,3.

If your parent’s had collections that possibly could have considerable value (stamps, coins, artwork) it would be smart to have the items appraised. Family members may realize it might be in their best financial interest to put them up for sale at a specialty auction. The other reason for an appraisal is to keep the process more equitable. In the event one person wants an item that has high value, other family members may choose several items to compensate.

If you and your siblings cannot come to an agreeable solution there is always the option of bringing in a professional to hold an estate sale and the proceeds could be equally divided. Just be prepared the sale may result in a much smaller amount in comparison to the actual value of the assets. When it comes to a sale the item is only worth what the purchaser is willing to pay. Also realize if there continues to be conflict with each other and it is necessary to hire a mediator or for the estate attorney to get involved it is going to come at a cost.

It would be a good use of time to go online and read articles related to the division of assets. The University of Minnesota Extension School has created a resource “Who Will Get Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” This is available online and in a workbook.


Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to or Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.

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