Top 10 Things Your Children Want You to Leave Them and the Top 10 Things They Don’t Want

When considering what to leave your children or grandchildren, many of you hope to pass on love, wisdom, financial abundance, and maybe a few precious family heirlooms. However, despite your best intentions, while there are some things your children would be happy to inherit, there are others that they hope not to be burdened with. This is a crucial aspect of Estate Planning that you may overlook, taking for granted that your children and grandchildren will always want the things you see as valuable and desirable.

Based on research from AARP, my own experience, and numerous other sources, below are 10 things that your children and grandchildren hope you don’t leave them and 10 things that they’d welcome with open arms. Of course, this is different for everyone, so be sure to have a conversation about these matters with your own family as part of your Estate Planning preparations.

10 Things Your Children Don’t Want

Some assets that may be difficult for children or grandchildren to inherit may include:

  1. Timeshares: Your children almost certainly do not want to inherit your timeshare, as it is what we call “the gift that keeps on taking.” Timeshare contracts are extremely difficult to get out of while you are alive and cause a liability for the next generation because they have to continue to pay annual maintenance fees, even if they never use the timeshare. Even if you love your timeshare, use it each year, and think it’s a great deal, you should be very cautious about leaving it to the next generation. They may not want to use it, yet they will still be on the hook for the ongoing and ever-increasing annual maintenance fees. To avoid burdening your children, you may want to try to get rid of your timeshare while you are still alive. If this is your situation, we can assist you in successfully getting rid of your timeshare.
  2. Guns: Guns can present some problems as inheritances, because they aren’t the kind of property your trustee or executor can just hand over to a named beneficiary. In most cases, the trustee or executor will have to go through a licensed firearms dealer and will need proper registration or a permit, although the rules vary significantly depending on your state of residence and the type of firearm. If you have guns to pass down, you could consider working with a gun dealer so they could store your guns and then sell them after you pass away. Just be sure to plan early, so your guns aren’t simply left in your car trunk or garage. That can complicate matters for your heirs. Not to mention, it’s a safety risk! For more details on Estate Planning for guns, please read my article on the subject.
  3. Outdated technology: The VHS or Betamax or even 35 mm film cameras or old video cameras may have been the height of entertainment in your heyday. Perhaps you have one of those huge, heavy televisions or a stereo/tape deck in your basement, or one of the first ever Commodore 64 computers in your garage. These things may be pretty cool and nostalgic for collectors and museum, curators; however, younger generations that grew up with more sophisticated technology may not see the worth of old computers, VHS cassettes, cassette players, or other antiquated equipment. It’s often best to recycle anything that isn’t of value, or try to sell it to a collector while you are alive. If you have old videotapes with precious family memories that haven’t yet been converted to a modern digital format, please consider doing that while you are still alive.
  4. Old books: You may still have a full collection of encyclopedias or textbooks from your college days. Recycle them as they are useless and outdated. Even your wonderful book collection — all the novels and other amazing books you have read over the years — is just clutter sitting on your bookshelves collecting dust and mold and are now obsolete. These days, people are now more inclined to read e-books online, which is a great way to reduce clutter. A favorite childhood book or two, however, may be on the list of books they want to read to their own children or grandchildren, so you may want to check with your children before getting rid of all your books.
  5. Family businesses: You may have neglected planning the succession of your family business, assuming it can be passed on to the next generation. If your family members can’t realistically be expected to carry on your business, it’s advisable to plan for the sale while you are alive. This way, you can provide the hands-on transition that’s important for the continued success of the business.
  6. Porcelain/ceramic figurine collections: Do you have an impressive collection of Hummels, Precious Moments, or Bradford Exchange plates? Even though they may be filled with memories, they may not be desired by your grown children or grandchildren because they do not fit into the Zen-like tranquil aesthetic of a 20- or 30-something’s home. Perhaps consider selling them to collectors in advance on eBay or via other online or in-person sales.
  7. Heavy, antique furniture: Unless your furniture is midcentury modern, there’s a good chance you will have to pay someone to take it off your hands. However, with the younger generation being so eco-minded, they may want some furniture, although probably smaller pieces. Reusing is environmentally friendly. You may be able to offer them quality, solid wood pieces that are more sustainable with that added benefit of keeping things out of a landfill.
  8. Fine china: Your grown children may not see the glory in unpacking fine china once a year for a holiday or event. They may not want to store four sets of fancy porcelain dinnerware. Some don’t even want one set. This is certainly something you should discuss with your children and grandchildren and something you may want to sell yourself ahead of time.
  9. Traditional IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, or other pretax retirement accounts: although on the surface, they seem like very nice funds to leave your children and grandchildren, the reality is, they can become tax burden, as under the SECURE Act, your children and grandchildren (with a few minor exceptions) must take out all of the money from these tax-deferred retirement accounts and pay taxes on those distributions at their income tax rate. Nobody knows what tax rates will be in the future, but it may be more economical for you to take these funds out while you’re alive and pay taxes at your tax rate in order to pass funds to your children that are not encumbered by federal and state tax debt.
  10. Cluttered real estate. Leaving real estate to children is a mixed blessing. On the bright side, your trust beneficiaries can receive a significant tax benefit on an inheritance of real estate through a step-up in basis. Also, if you have a child and/or grandchild living with you, and it is their only place of residence, then almost certainly these individuals are going to want to inherit your real estate. On the other hand, if your kids all have homes of their own, inheriting your real estate can cause them a lot of trouble, grief, time, and expense — especially if before selling it, they have to sort through a household full of furniture, artwork, collections, and miscellaneous belongings and knickknacks. If you have a house full of lifetime memories, someone (perhaps multiple family members) is going to likely spend dozens, if not hundreds of hours rummaging through your “stuff” and sorting it — usually into 4 “piles” — to either: 1) keep and distribute to a family member, 2) send to an auction house if it may be valuable but no one in the family wants it; 3)  donate to Goodwill or the Salvation Army; or 4) trash it. There are companies you can hire to do this and pay them from money in the trust or the estate, but in most families a family member winds up doing this themselves. The solution — sort and declutter and give away the stuff that your kids actually want while you are still alive! There are numerous decluttering services available, and some of them are listed on our website under trusted referrals of other senior serving professionals.

10 Things Your Children DO Want

On a positive note, these are things children and grandchildren would likely welcome with open arms:

  1. Cash: Cash is king when it comes to leaving an inheritance. Your heirs immediately know how much it’s worth, and your trustee can easily divide it according to the terms in your trust. Your kids don’t have to do any hard work to access monetary accounts (unless you make the mistake of using beneficiary designations — click here for my three-part series on all the potential problems of using beneficiary designations), which often causes numerous headaches, or leaving it to them through a will, which causes the nightmare of probate) — versus something like real estate, which can take months or years to sell.
  2. Roth IRAs: A Roth IRA is a retirement account funded with after-tax dollars. In exchange, your retirement income is tax-free, including your investment gains. This tax-free treatment continues when your heirs inherit the Roth IRA, making this another effective asset to leave behind. Your beneficiaries must still take the money out over 10 years, but they will not have to pay any taxes on it.
  3. Non-retirement brokerage accounts: Investments in a non-retirement taxable brokerage account, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds also make for an attractive inheritance. They are easy to divide and value because your trust beneficiaries can see the market price of these publicly traded investments. Investments are also easy to sell and convert to cash! In addition, your trust beneficiaries could receive a significant tax benefit on these inheritances through a step-up in basis.
  4. Photos and scrapbooks: Sadly, most of your children and grandchildren will not want most your precious printed photo albums and scrapbooks. But your children and grandchildren may want some of them — just in digital format! Sit down and look through one photo album and scrapbook at a time when the family visits. Ask them to pick out the ones they would like to be passed down and the ones they would prefer to be digitized. Document who is in the photos. If your children don’t remember who those people are, the photos will have no meaning. Discuss — while somebody is filming you and the photos and scrapbooks — the names, relation to other family members, where and when the photo was taken, and your memories about what you see in each photo and scrapbook. These video recordings will last much longer and will be much more likely to be reviewed by your next generations of loved ones.
  5. Valuable artwork and antiques. Most artwork and antiques in your homes are probably not particularly valuable. However, if you do have valuable artwork or antiques, especially original pieces of artwork or limited quality prints, be sure to have them appraised and listed separately on your homeowners insurance form and list them as a separate attachment to your trust. This is called a tangible personal property directive; we provide one that allows you to describe each item and even attach a photograph of each item. If you have an appraisal of the value of the item, that should also be included.
  6. Family recipes: Treasured handwritten recipe cards that hold memories may be desirable. However, your children may only want only one or two cards, with instructions for their favorite dish that grandma used to make to carry on family traditions. Also be sure to scan or take photos of these recipes so they can be more easily shared with everyone in your family who wants them.
  7. Tools: Once your children have their own homes, you may be surprised that they’ll be interested in the tools on the garage workbench. They may want hammers, screwdrivers, and drills, as long as they are in good working order. They’ll likely want to inherit Dad’s fairly new electric yard tools set. Don’t be surprised, however, if they don’t go for Grandpa’s rusty saws!
  8. Extra special jewelry: Jewelry is another category that may have a monetary or sentimental value, or both. Your children may remember a necklace of Grandma’s or Dad’s special watch. When it comes to jewelry, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your kids and grandchildren so everyone can express their feelings and understand your decision about who gets what.
  9. Rental real estate: Inheriting rental real estate is not for everyone, but for many people, this is considered a great investment and many children and grandchildren will greatly appreciate inheriting rental real estate, as it can provide a steady source of alternative income to money invested in the stock market or other more traditional investments. Just be sure it’s in a trust to avoid probate, and consider also having it owned by an LLC or an irrevocable trust for asset protection.
  10. Assets in a trust: This final suggestion is less about the type of asset you may leave and more about the way you leave that asset — and that should be in a trust. If you leave property to your children or grandchildren through a will, it goes through the nightmare of probate. If it goes to them through a beneficiary designation, they may have a very difficult time making a claim to actually get their inheritance; see the link above about all the problems with beneficiary designations. Even if you leave property through a living trust, if that trust terminates upon your death and leaves assets to your beneficiaries outright instead of in an ongoing beneficiary asset protection trust, then their inheritance will be subject to the claims of their creditors and predators, and without a trust everything likely goes through probate. A trust can also limit how much goes out over time, including passing wealth between generations, such as first payments going to your kids and then continuing to your grandkids. A trust should be part of an overall estate plan!

Estate Planning Is One of the Most Loving Things You Can Do for Your Family and Friends

It is important to protect yourself, your quality of life, and your golden years with Estate Planning, long-term care planning, financial planning, and insurance advice. Estate Planning ensures that your loved ones are provided for and that your estate gets divided according to your wishes.

If you or a loved one has not done estate planning, please call us to make an appointment:

Fairfax Estate Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Maryland Estate Planner: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Care: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.