Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dividing and Conquering

We are facing the prospect of making decisions about my parents' things.  While both Mom and Dad are still living and in surprisingly good health, the time has come to make some changes and this will mean the emptying, selling, distributing, cleaning, and deciding process that so many of you have been through.

Because of two destructive fires in the past, we don't have huge amounts of heirlooms.  However, there are still lots of things some of us will want: quilt tops, pretty dishes, dressers, books, and so on.

And oh so many things none of us will want, which will be a challenge all its own. Let's just say I didn't pull my hoarding tendencies out of thin air.

This is my question for all my experienced, expert friends: What's the most equitable and practical way to divide stuff between six children?  And a bunch of grandchildren?

I've heard of families who used a sticker system, others who assigned values and tried to divide it equally, others who took turns choosing and then turned the grandchildren loose when the children were done.

I'd love to hear from you.  What works?  What doesn't work?  What almost worked for you and would have if you tweaked it a bit?

Leave your ideas in the comments or message me privately at


Quote of the Day:
Background: Emily is a very cautious driver who likes to stay under the speed limit.  Unlike some others in the family.
Around the dinner table, we discuss near-misses in the past--
Me: Emily, you should tell that story of when you were passing the combine on 99 and didn't look in your mirrors...
Steven: Are you sure the combine didn't pass you?


  1. There were 6 of us children and we used the third method you mentioned. After we siblings were finished we opened it up to the grandchildren. We went from oldest to youngest, then back up to the oldest and around again. For the furniture, we all put our names on pieces we wanted and if there was more than one name on an item the names were put in a hat and one was drawn. The system worked very well for us and I think we were all happy with the outcome and felt that it was done fairly. I was just so happy to see it stay in the family!

  2. For both sets of my Grandparents, we had private family " auctions" , were each person could bid on whatever item that struck their fancy. The not so desirable items were placed with the items they knew would sell well.

    I have many fond memories of those auctions, lots of laughter and fun.

  3. My husband's mother recently passed away (his dad died some years ago) we are using the same system "ribbit98" has suggested and it seems to be working great.

  4. My grandma-in-law left everything to her oldest son. He got everyone else to say what keepsakes they wanted. The main problem ended up being that there wasn't any finality to it: ever since then, people have thought of more things that they wanted but forgot to mention, and resented not getting. I would think it would be good to have everyone 'there' when the last odds and ends are getting cleaned up, for 'closure.'

    I know of one family who had success with the auction idea. The children bid on everything and the money was then split up among the grandkids.

    I remember hearing an estate lawyer mention the importance of going over every last knicknack, not just the big 'obvious' things.

  5. When we divided up the things of my in-laws, the there were a number of "major" items and so we decided on what those things were, and then the children were given a choice of what they wanted, starting with the oldest and going to the youngest. Then, the youngest got two choices, and they worked their way back up through until they were back at the top. It seemed like it worked pretty well. And that way, it kept things equal between the different economic levels that are naturally found in a family.

  6. My parents are still living and they wanted to get rid of a lot of their stuff. We had an "auction" that was attended by the children and grandchildren. Each child and each grandchild had two thousand "SchrockBucks" to spend. It was lots of fun and we all had equal buying power. There was no actual money involved unless you went over the two thousand mark.

  7. In my in-law's family the dispersing of ALL items, both big and small, was done by drawing numbers for each round of choosing. That way the middle children weren't always in the middle as they would be going up or down the birth order. Numbers 1-8 (8 children)were made on pieces of wood, scrabble size, for the occasion so they wouldn't wear out before the day was over. Worked well. Undoubtedly, the Yoder's will create a memorable day!

  8. We just moved to the UK from Salem 2 weeks ago, and the driving has been an adventure! I'm with Emily on this one. :-) You can check out my blog about it here:

  9. My husband is one of 6, and as his mother unexpectedly neared her time, she had only given a few items away. After her death, there was much more to deal with, spread over 2 houses. To simplify probate and avoid having to appraise everything, all belongings were put in a living trust and "transferred" on death to one child. Due to the number of items and tendency of some sibs to defer to one another, they decided against auctions or taking turns choosing. Instead, they listed 800 items (from antiques and heirlooms to minor knic-knacs)in a spreadsheet, along with comments on the origin or family history of the item where appropriate. Most items also had a picture, to help keep everything straight. The sibs each ranked 20-30 items they most wanted, and the spreadsheet randomly cycled through the 6 sibs, giving them their highest available choice each cycle. This process was repeated 7 times. In some cases horse-trades were made after the fact. Certain items, such as clothing, were split up other ways by agreement. Grandchildren had to request through their parents. It appears that everyone was satisfied with the results.

  10. Thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences. I'm copying them all into a Word document so we have a list of ideas to choose from when we get together.

  11. I know I'm a little late in commenting here. for my grandparents,the seven children divided up the items they wanted amongst themselves. whatever was left was auctioned at a private family auction. can I just say how much I love the idea "Jansmon"'s family used with the "shrockbucks". some of my cousins are much more wealthy than others. I would be found in the uhum..less wealthy group and there are some things I would have liked to have but having limited spending wasn't so nice when you're bidding on memories. loved the equality of that idea!