"Who gets Grandma's yellow pie plate?"
Ever heard that phrase? It is more than a question, it's a long-used curriculum developed by faculty at the University of Minnesota Extension Service (www.umn.edu). The process involves structured exercises that lead participants through an examination of what's "fair" and "valued" in the transfer of non-titled personal property. The conversations are held as response to the anticipated or recently experienced passing of a family elder with a houseful of personal possessions.
The items under consideration often include decades-old dinner china or tarnished silver coffee servers, as well as the mahogany sideboard in which they reside. I have facilitated those discussions in years past and seen firsthand the familial debate that emerges.
But that was then and this is now. In today's world the questions raised and the discussions needed are more around "who wants grandma's yellow pie plate?"
As uncomfortable as it may be for me, I am coming to terms with the reality that none of our children may want the silver flatware in the velvet-lined wooden box that sits on our pantry shelf and gets used only for Thanksgiving dinners when they come to visit, which the do much less often in recent years.
The issue for many of us as we age is more often "unwanted inheritance." What I have always thought our children and grandchildren might treasure after my death, they are simply not interested in having, I am slowly beginning to realize.
In fact they do not even want to talk about inheriting certain items of furniture or wall art because they are caring "kids" who don't want to hurt my feelings by being uninterested.
The best thing I can do is develop a thoughtful list of donation sites that have meaning to me.
Well managed organizations that willingly accept heavy furniture items is one criteria I use. My list includes Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity, and my favorite local nonprofit where all proceeds go to benefit hospice programs. My gift to heirs is a list of accurate contact information and assurance the organization willing to receive the designated "treasures" has a truck and will do pick-ups.
My husband and I are planners; we have decided to fully embrace aging. We plan to start using that silver flatware more regularly for our own suppers. Or maybe we will check out its value and see what might be involved in turning it into the original silver with monetary value.
I have stopped taping the names of select children and grandchildren on the back of a favored cabinet or bookcase and started making property disposition decisions now. In fact, I have a comfy old rocker-recliner — gold plaid with a matching pillow — that I will gladly give to anyone who asks. Anyone.
— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.