Distributing family heirlooms

This summer has brought sadness to the Lenahan family with my mom’s passing. She lived a full life during her 88 years on this earth. With Dad’s passing nine years ago, this marks the close of a generation for my family. I’ve often said that I like being a child, and now with Mom and Dad both gone, I feel a bit like an orphan.  

Of course, I am comforted by our faith. What seems like the end is actually a new beginning. I am also grateful to have had two parents who remained committed to each other in marriage for a lifetime, and who loved and sacrificed for their children.  

It is difficult to describe the depth of emotion that arises in quiet moments, at Mass, or when a memorable song is heard, and yet, I am grateful for that emotion. It is a sign of deep love between child and parent that comes from God and is precious. May the souls of George and Nancy Lenahan, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. 

Mom and Dad desired to stay in the home they raised us in — their home of 55 years — even as their health faltered. I am grateful we were able to fulfill that wish.  

Their passing meant that household items needed to be distributed among family members. As you can imagine, there were many items and memories related to those 55 years.  

Our family attorney and friends had warned me that it’s easy for what should be a time of sharing precious family memories instead to turn into a time of conflict. That’s a shame. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” It was my hope to honor my parents by making the experience a positive one, and for the most part, it worked out that way. I’d like to share a few tips that helped us along the way.

Technology usage

One of the most effective steps we took was to create an online photo album of virtually all of the contents in the home. Picasa (Google’s online photo album site) allowed family members who were spread across the country to not only view the photos, but also express interest and share memories about items via a user comment capability. Two helpful hints: make sure items are shown only once and determine ahead of time whether items will be distributed as a set or as individual items (for example, silverware, crystal, book sets). 

Establish the ground rules

Once you are ready to start the selection process, you’ll need to establish a fair sequence among the family members taking part. We did a one-time random selection of names, which established the rotation sequence that was used throughout the process.  


Another requirement on the part of the trustee will be to determine at what point the dollar value of household items will be counted as part of the “asset” distribution of the estate. Our attorney originally suggested any item of $50 or more be counted as part of the estate, but it would have required a great deal of logistical work to set values on many items. Family members agreed to establish a limit of $500, which kept the need to appraise items to a reasonable level. 

Finally, be ready for surprises during the process. We came across troves of family history, including items we didn’t know existed: letters between our parents during their courtship years; memorabilia from my dad’s service in the Army during World War II; old family photographs; and even some of my mom’s maternity clothes that she carried us in during her pregnancy.  

Tears were shed as we experienced the memories associated with these items. We’ve even decided to make an electronic album of special photos and documents so that everyone will be able to share the memories and pass them on to the next generation. God love you! 

Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95) and “Generation Next” (Veritas Ministries, $24.95).Submit questions to askphil@osv.com.