In the News

Who Gets Mom’s Secretary?©

Sorry to be AWOL for the past two weeks but it was for a good "cause": my wife and I were in the Pennsylvania mountains enjoying the beautiful fall color as we celebrated 51 years of marital bliss! We were in a 100 year-old cabin that has been in my wife's family for about sixty years. It is full of artifacts and memorabilia going back for generations in her family. Most were very inexpensive when they were purchased but are priceless now because of the memories. So while we were there I decided to pull up the following column that I published back in May of 2009 because it is a timeless piece that effects every generation. I hope it is helpful for you.

As I write this column I’m sitting at my wife’s desk, which is a secretary-style desk with a fold down front. Not a high quality piece of furniture and I’m sure it wasn’t very expensive new, but it’s priceless to me. You see, this old desk used to be my mother’s. There’s no telling how many birthday cards, thank you notes and encouraging letters she wrote from this desk. Every time I look at it I’m reminded of mom.

How did I come to get this desk? I’ll tell you in a few minutes. But first, let’s talk about how non-titled items, such as furniture, jewelry, art, and similar items are passed down from one generation to another. Some consider decisions about such personal property unimportant, or that they can be handled with an instruction in a will to “divide equally among my children”. Most estate planning resources ignore decisions surrounding the transfer of non-titled property (items without legal documentation such as a title or deed).

But the experience of families and estate planning attorneys tell a very different story. It is often the disposition of these kinds of items that cause contention and hard feelings among family members. Distribution of non titled property is a decision-making issue that impacts all families, regardless of their financial worth, heritage or cultural background.

Consider these unique aspects of personal property:

  • Their sentimental value can make decisions emotionally difficult.
  • Transferring objects can involve the process of grieving and saying good-bye.
  • Objects help preserve memories of important people, family history and traditions in our lives.
  • Decisions may involve collections accumulated over a lifetime or even over several generations.
  • Distribution methods for personal property aren’t well known or understood.
That leads me back to how I got this desk. I’ll tell you how my brother and I did it when mom passed away because it worked well for us. After taking care of the legal issues, we met at mom’s house and agreed on how we would do it. First, we both went through the house and made separate lists of items we would like to have. Then we sat down and compared lists. To our pleasant surprise there were very few items on both lists. For example, he chose the piano and I didn’t because we already had one. For the short list of duplicates on both of our lists, we drew straws to determine who got to make the first choice, then alternated choices for the rest of the list. It was simple, easy to understand, and we all felt it was fair. If this system works for you, feel free to use it.

The main thing is that however you do it, use the items you receive to help you treasure the memories of loved ones past. I sure do treasure the memories that mom’s secretary desk brings to me!

Excerpts in this column were drawn from an article by Dr. Marlene S. Sturm entitled “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” ©

Thanks for reading All About Seniors.....see you next week

Bill Milby, CSA, is a Certified Senior Advisor and a Director of Visiting Angels® of Macon, an essential personal, living assistance service for seniors.  If you have questions or comments about this column you can reach him at or  search for  us at
























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