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Of Beauty, Art and Beneficiaries – The Right Way to Handle Your Possessions

John Ruskin, a 19th century English art and social critic, was commonly acknowledged as a great artist, architect, poet, political commentator and visionary.


Let us, then, use some of his memorable prose to discuss a pressing issue facing every elder and his or her family: possessions.


“What we build, let us think that we build forever.” We are a nation of gatherers. For those in their 40’s and beyond, that meant accumulating crystal and china, family heirlooms, massive furniture, collectibles, art, books and homemade crafts. For those in Texas, gathering also meant guns, stuffed dead animals or parts thereof, trucks and fishing tackle. In the thrill of acquisition, few of us ever considered that we would eventually have to part with our possessions through downsizing or death. Our gathering served a higher purpose: we were building home and legacy.


“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless: peacocks and lilies for instance.” Truthfully, sometimes the kids just don’t get it. As we age, we need to hold onto those things we find beautiful as long as we can so we can enjoy them. When the time comes to part with it, don’t leave it to an unappreciative family member. Instead, sell it on the open market or through a consignment shop, or give it to someone or someplace who would value it. A place of worship, a school or a museum might treasure it, and gifting it may give you the added benefit of a tax write-off.


“Give a little love to a child, and you get a great deal back.” No one says you can’t skip a generation or two. If your kids are unappreciative, perhaps a grandchild will treasure your great-grandfather’s medals or your Madame Alexander doll collection. If you can bear to part with it, then gift it now while you can see the joy in their eyes. If you are not yet willing to make the break, then leave it to them in a specific bequest in your will or trust. Caution: if you are going to delay gifting, make sure that whoever you’ve named as your agent or trustee isn’t going to sell it or toss it in a jumble of boxes in the storage unit if you end up in an assisted living facility or nursing home.


“All books are divisible into two classes, the books of the hour and the books of all time.” Books are wonderful possessions until they aren’t. Take the time to separate out the books that are valuable (to you or in the open market) and the books that aren’t. Consider donating or selling the books that have no value to you.


“Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.” Above all, this is the sentiment that you do not want your beneficiaries to feel. A possession that the recipient feels lacks both sentimental or market value is, in their eyes, just so much trash. Your possessions and your legacy deserve better than that.

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The information contained in this article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice.

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