Deciding how to distribute heirlooms requires thought

My nephew Tanner is a pretty accomplished young man. He has a knack for mechanics. During his high school years, he worked for a company that made sensitive equipment parts for the military.

On the side, he bought lawnmowers, dirt bikes, jet skis and other small vehicles that needed repair. He fixed them and resold them for a tidy profit.

Attending night school for college, he also worked full time at Raytheon, a major defense contractor. Saving all his money, he bought his first home at age 23. He is the chief snow remover at my mom’s house in New Hampshire as well as the man on call for heavy lifting and odd jobs.

So when my mother asked me “the question,” the answer was easy for me.

The question involved a family heirloom, a musket that belonged to my great-grandfather. The last time we checked, it was worth over $4,000.

The musket already had a troubled history.

My father was one of two children. He had an older sister. It was understood that upon his parents’ death the musket was to be passed on to my father.

However, before my father could take possession of the gun, his sister’s daughter took it out of my grandparents’ house and brought it to her own home.

Being the good guy that my dad was, he never said anything for the better part of a year, but it continued to eat at him. At the urging of my sisters and me he talked to his niece and expressed how important it was to honor his father’s wishes.

After some consideration, she gave the gun to my father, but it was always a bit of a sore spot in our family history.

It has been a year since my father’s passing, and the musket sits under my mother’s bed, wrapped in a blanket.

Now for “the question.”

Tanner, with the help of a friend, is decorating his new home. He asked my sister if he might have my father’s musket to display in his living room.

The gun had always been displayed in the space above the mantel at my parents’ home when they lived in Cape Cod. Tanner wanted to continue that tradition in his home.

My sister asked my mom if Tanner could have the gun.

My mother asked my opinion for two reasons. First, the gun has value, and giving a $4,000 gift to one of her four grandchildren might be an issue for the other three. She also wondered if any of her three children might want the gun for themselves.

There has always been a tradition in my family that when parents passed away, a value was placed on the larger or treasured items they possessed. When my mother’s parents died, for example, my mother and her two siblings each received a fund of one-third of the value of those possessions.

As each child selected an item, the value of that item was subtracted from their fund, until the funds of each were depleted and they took possession of those items that meant something to them.

It’s a very fair and honorable process. Being fair is an important value in my family.

While this gift to Tanner might not fit the usual process of distributing valued possessions, my mother explained to me that Tanner had been so helpful to my father and her that giving him the musket would be a small repayment for all his care and hard work.

My reply to my mother was immediate: Yes, I would support gifting Tanner the musket. I think he will appreciate and cherish this gift the most of all the grandchildren, and the fact that he was so kind and helpful to my parents provides all the more reason why he should have this heirloom.

I know my dad would be honored to have his grandson proudly display this piece of family history.

Sometimes gratitude can be more important than fairness.




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Tags: passing on heirlooms

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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