Sunday, May 04, 2008


Before she died in the late 1980s, my reader's mother gave him and his wife some of her jewelry. For years the cache sat ignored in an obscure corner of my reader's home.

One of the items was a gold charm bracelet featuring 10 charms, one for each of his mother's grandchildren. Each has the child's name on one side and his or her birth date on the other.

"I thought my two older sisters might want to have it," my reader says, "as opposed to our children having to decide what to do with it when my wife and I pass on."

If his sisters weren't interested in the bracelet, my reader suggested having it appraised, since gold prices were soaring, peaking at $1,020 an ounce in mid-March, before sliding back to $925 as I write this column. My reader offered to split the proceeds with his sisters, if they decided to sell the bracelet.

"I thought this was better than the risk of it being lost through theft, natural disaster or loss in the old-folks home," he says.

A rational discussion followed, but one of the grandchildren objected strongly to the notion that they would even consider selling such a keepsake. Instead, she thought that it should go to the grandchild who had been closest to my reader's deceased mother.

My reader believes that he did the right thing by offering the bracelet to his sisters.

"Since it was mine," he reasons, "I could have had it melted down and made a few bucks ... if my sentimental wife would have let me. Is there a right thing to do when the choices are between sentimentality and profiting from an inherited but unwanted item, when it seemed like a good time to do so?"

I regularly receive letters from readers who are struggling with how to be fair in disbursing goods to heirs. However hard they try to be fair, they invariably end up annoying or alienating some member of the family who doesn't agree with how the prospective disburser plans to dole out the goods.

My reader is absolutely correct in saying that, since the bracelet was his, he was well within his ethical rights to do with it whatever he pleased. But he went the extra ethical step by seriously considering the effect his actions might have on other stakeholders -- namely, his sisters.

Regardless of the negative response from one of the grandchildren, my reader did the right thing by contacting his sisters for their thoughts about the proper handling of the charm bracelet. Even after getting their response, however, he is still free to do whatever he wants with the bracelet, even if they disagree. It is, after all, his.

As it turns out, another grandchild came up with a solution that satisfies everyone, at least in the short term: Each child will receive his or her charm, to do with as he or she pleases. After the charms are gone, all my reader needs to decide is what to do with his leftover gold bracelet.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


yawningdog said...

Trying to be Solomon and dividing the suggestions are:

If the 10 grandkids are old enough -
Give each child his or her own charm.
Then sell the bracelet for the gold.

If the 10 grandkids are still babies - not likely with the bracelet having been made before 1980 - give each mother her kid's charms. The moms might like to have them anyway, regardless of the kids ages.

Turn the thing into a family tradition...have any girls wear it at their weddings for example or mothers at a baby's christening. That way it gets used, it is not forgotten nor is it torn apart for scrap.

Anonymous said...

Keep the bracelet intact and have it worn when the girls get married. We need to be more sentimental. If you sell it for a few coins, you'll spend it and well that's it!

Anonymous said...

How an heirloom comes into one’s possession in the first place can also lead to lively family discussion.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin,

The answer to this dilemma comes from the very words written at the beginning of your article, to wit:".... my reader's mother GAVE HIM AND HIS WIFE...".

If the now deceased previous owner was not duped when giving the bracelet, any claim of authority as to it's disposition by ANY other person other than the current owner is invalid, period.

Simple enough?

Your very true fan and Friend,

Mario Fiermonte
Mission Viejo, Ca.

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