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Karen Telleen-Lawton: Eenie Meenie Miney Moe Part 1

Dear Karen: The event I have anticipated and dreaded for years is upon us in a few weeks. My folks are still active and relatively astute at 85 and 86. Nevertheless, they are moving to a retirement home that is just now under construction. They’ve lived in their house for over 50 years!

I am grateful that they have decided on their own, and my siblings and I will help them move, of course, but I’m anxious about divvying up fifty years’ worth of accumulation.

Mom has asked us for years to put our names on stuff, but we all felt awkward about it, and now time’s up.

There’s everything from our third grade pottery to a large silk carpet I suspect is quite valuable. How do we do this with three siblings 3,000 miles apart, and still keep speaking to each other?

— Dreading sibling confrontation

Dear Sibling: Congratulations to your parents on their upcoming milestone. You and your siblings are fortunate indeed that your parents are healthy and that they made their own decision. They are leaving under their own power.

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College says Baby Boomers will eventually inherit $8 trillion in cash, real estate and a whole lot of curios. You’re not alone in your predicament.

Ask your folks about any items they’d like specifically to go to one of you — or someone else.

Since your folks seem pretty prepared, they likely already have wills and perhaps a trust. These should be consulted for any special instructions as to the division of assets.

Aside from specific wishes by your parents, the actually choosing of household items presents challenges that are best solved on the ground.

There are as many opportunities as challenges. If your parents are willing, you might want to spend some time asking them about the provenance of various objects. They will likely appreciate your caring about family heirlooms, keepsakes and momentos.

At the same occasion or a subsequent one, you can assemble an inventory list including this special information. E-bay or Google can be a valuable resource for some ballpark values, if you choose to include that in the list.

Then it’s time to hold the Great Eenie Meenie Miney Moe event.

On the day of the event, realize, remember and keep remembering that your relationships with your siblings are more important than stuff. Agree to try to be your best selves, and forgive each other for inevitable moments if old hurts get in the way.

Money Magazine lists some rules that may help smooth the way on Eenie Meenie Day. In addition to not allowing the transactions to tear siblings apart, they suggest you share with each other what are the top items on your lists.

Then decide on a basic process, such as drawing straws for order and then taking turns. If multiple siblings share a “must have” item, you may want one sibling to pay the others for it, rather than keep it as part of the regular pick.

Or in some cases, if the item can’t be shared or paid for, an alternative is to sell it and split the proceeds among the siblings.

I agree with most of these tips, but used a slightly different process for our own Eenie Meeny Miney Moe event. In a subsequent column I’ll list the tips that worked for us.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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