Estate Sale: How To Hold One Without Family Conflict

An estate sale can trigger family conflict in a way that nothing else can. Here are some suggestions to use to reduce disputes about who gets what, and put the interests of the sellers first.

An estate sale symbolizes the end of a life, at least in the way remembered by the families involved. Even if there hasn't been a physical death of a parent or grandparent, it's more than material goods being sold. The value of the possessions can be considerable, but that's usually not what causes the earthquakes of emotion between family members.

When the time comes to clear the estate, the opportunity is ripe for all manner of family feuds to erupt. Heirs and siblings lay claim to the belongings that were always at the heart of their childhood home; disputes erupt over who gets the round oak table or the treadle sewing machine that always sat in that one special corner of the living room. Even relatives that have gotten along beautifully for years can explode at family auctions.

Professional auctioneers work regularly with families in the process of releasing goods collected over decades. They have come up with some suggestions that can make the process less painful for the everyone.

If the seller is holding the an estate sale or auction because the time has come to move to a smaller home, it is important that the first priority be their own financial security. Arrangements must be made so that they can be comfortable for the rest of their lives.

Once that it established, the family can do several things before the sale takes place, to handle an estate disbursement in a way that is fair to the sellers.

One way is for the sellers to issue "credit" to each of their offspring in equal amounts, the "buyers" then take turns spending their credit by choosing the items they most want. (This works best if the goods have been pre-priced.)



It's pointless to break up a collection that gets its value primarily by virtue of being a collection, so a group of items should be considered a single unit unless there are a few pieces that stand alone.

To disburse a valuable collection of antiques, artwork or crystal, where every piece is valuable in its own right, put the names of each item in a hat (or a paper bag or a bowl) and have each heir take a turn drawing--or each could choose a favorite piece in turn.

If the family can't be physically together to do this, photos could be put on a web page on the Internet to choose from. Photos could also be duplicated on color copy machines, put into inexpensive bindings and mailed; a family conference phone call can take the place of an in-person gathering.

As much as most parents would like to bequeath everything to their children as gifts, many times that's just not a financial sound move. If the money situation dictates that everything be sold rather than given away, perhaps a sale "by invitation only" or a "pre-auction" held just prior to the public one could be held for the family; where they would have the option to buy the things they'd really like to have.

As a last resort, the family can be told that everything must be sold at auction, and they are free to bid alongside everyone else. Whether or not the seller chooses to collect when it's time to settle is, of course, up to them.

Frequently, an auctioneer or estate sale coordinator will tell the sellers not to give any favors to the family, pointing out the hard work that's gone into accumulating all the valuables and the need to provide for safe housing and health for themselves. While this is important advice, it must be tempered by the family dynamics.

Maybe special heirlooms have been promised to particular people; there might be items with intense family history attached, such as hand crocheted linens or photo albums, that truly need to stay in the family. While the pros have experience and can take charge with efficiency, they do not have the right to override the choices of the heart.

One important consideration for the sanity of everyone is to emotionally release the posessions going up for sale, and especially to forget the original cost of everything. Lots of energy can be wasted comparing the auction bids to the original price tag--whether it's higher or lower.l parts of other lives.An estate sale symbolizes the end of a life, at least in the way remembered by the families involved. Even if there hasn't been a physical death of a parent or grandparent, it's more than material goods being sold here. The value of the possessions can be considerable, but that's usually not what causes the earthquakes of emotion between family members.

The day or the weekend of the sale, some families find they just cannot attend at all, and leave the whole procedure in other hands. What works for them is to say their farewells to the whole shebang before the sale starts and walk away from it all.

Others, however, choose to make the day a festival. They invite friends and neighbors as well as family and rejoice as watching the things they no longer need go on to new, useful parts of other lives.

© High Speed Ventures 2011