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Do heirs have the right to dictate which mementos you sell?
Last year, when gold prices reached an all-time high, a
number of people scrambled through old jewelry boxes to see if they had any
underused gold lying around that they could sell. At more than $1,800 an ounce,
even those who weren't strapped for cash recognized a unique opportunity to do
some profitable house cleaning.
A reader from North Carolina seized the moment. He hadn't
worn his college ring in decades, so he decided to take it to his local jeweler
to see how much it might fetch.
He was surprised to be offered $479, so he accepted a
check on the spot. His wife mentioned his good fortune to their adult daughter
who lives a few hours away.
"She was quite upset, tracked down the jeweler on
the phone, and managed to 'save' it," my reader reports. He picked his
ring up the next day, returned the check, and gave his daughter the ring the
next time he saw her.
"Our daughter is just more sentimental than I am and
wanted to have it to remember me by," he says. "She loves me."
A similar situation arose recently after he decided to
sell a couple of handwritten letters that had been addressed to him by a
well-known author to thank him for some information. Believing his letters
might get lost or damaged and would not be of interest to anyone down the line,
he ended up selling them to a dealer for $100.
He received "a lot of flak" from a relative who
told him he should have saved the letters for his grandchildren. "He
reasoned that they could be worth much more years from now and said that it was
'unimaginative' . . . and, in effect, selfish of me to sell the letters now,
especially since I don't need the money."
My reader says he has acquired a lot of things over the
years and doesn't want to be second-guessed on what he chooses to dispose of
before his next "and probably final" move. His children and grandchildren
will, he says, be rewarded with money and things of sentimental value after his
As he gets older, however, he wants to get rid of some
things that mean little to him. He also hopes to spare his children any
conflict over who gets what when the time comes.
"Should I have to consult with the parents of our
grandchildren on everything?" he asks. "Is it ethical to dispose of
your once-prized possessions when they might have real or sentimental value to
It's my reader's stuff and the right thing is for him to
keep whatever he wants and dispose of whatever he doesn't. He has no ethical
obligation to seek the permission of his kids, grandkids, or other relatives
about what he does with his stuff.
Knowing, however, that his daughter might be
sentimentally attached to some of his belongings, it would be thoughtful for
him to let her and his other children know when he's getting rid of something.
But such notification could be more of a courtesy than a negotiation.
Some family members may take issue with how he decides to
lighten his load. They're free to express their opinion. But ultimately, as
long as he is prepared to withstand some possible criticism, the decision about
what to keep and what to lose is his to make.