Living Columns & Blogs

Settling estates filled with antiques

When a relative dies, family members often have differing opinions about what to do with the heirlooms left behind.
When a relative dies, family members often have differing opinions about what to do with the heirlooms left behind. Photo provided

Grandma passed away, leaving behind a house filled with art, antiques and collectibles. You and your family members have varied feelings about her heirlooms. Some of your relatives want to divvy up everything. Others want to just bring in a reseller. Other family members are ready to pile it all into a dumpster. Some relatives are ready to give away every last unwanted object. And, of course, there are also those folks who just can’t deal with Grandma’s objects as tears flow at the sight of her quilts or wash bowl set.

What should you do?

Arrange a family caucus at a location other than Grandma’s empty home. Give everyone a turn to express their feelings about what should happen with the objects that have been left behind.

Everyone needs to keep an open mind — and not necessarily an open mouth — about how to deal with Grandma’s personal property.

The person in your family who keeps saying that everything is worthless old junk and that the best thing to do is to trash everything is the person throwing away your money, throwing away your inheritance and probably should not have the last word. Let them have their say and while some items will not be worth a king’s ransom, the trash option is usually the one that people regret in the long run. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Remind yourself to ask that person to consider how he would feel once a valuable item worth thousands of dollars is left sitting in the Dumpster outside your late grandma’s house. How would he feel when a nosy neighbor, local trash man or antique reseller stops by and helps himself to that valuable piece?

Often, a Dumpster is the original location of many items that you will later find for sale at sky-high prices at some of the most prestigious auction houses and trendy antique dealerships. Recently, an antique chair found on a neighbor’s trash pile was sold by the guy next door for $198,000. And, a jogger in New York City helped herself to an abstract painting on a curbside garbage heap that she later sold for $1.2 million dollars.

So, without an unbiased appraisal and review of the current market for your late grandmother’s stuff, this Dumpster-happy family member is just helping your entire family lose lots of money. Get an unbiased appraisal first — one where the appraiser does not want to buy anything from you.

The best solution is open communication with all of your family members and an action plan for the appraisal of Grandma’s antiques.

Lori Verderame is an antiques appraiser, nationally syndicated columnist and author, and award-winning TV personality with a doctorate in the field. She presents antique appraisal events, keynote speeches and lectures to worldwide audiences. Visit Follow her on DoctorLori or call 888-431-1010.