Unless you’re one of those controlling hypochondriac types, none of us like to think about mortality, be it our own or that of our loved ones. But since the only two things in life you can’t avoid are death and taxes, someday someone is going to get your good jewelry.
I firmly advise that you speak with a qualified estate attorney and take his or her advice over mine, but I have had many conversations with jewelry industry colleagues about this topic.
Like bartenders and hairdressers, jewelers often serve as amateur therapists. One of my good jeweler friends in Michigan told me the story of a customer who spent many years looking after her mother but had never told her mother how much she wanted her engagement ring someday. When her mother passed, the will left the ring to the woman’s sister. The woman was devastated. The caregiving woman was amply compensated, but the ring meant more to her than the money.
The jeweler gently pointed out that her sister got the ring but she got something far more meaningful: the chance to spend so much more time with her mother. I don’t know if that made her feel better, but she did buy herself something nice with the money.
If your first goal is to be fair above all, the best option is to sell your jewelry and divide the proceeds equally between your heirs. When the items up for discussion are fine jewelry with precious metals, gemstones and/or diamonds, your simplest solution is to use the online auction platform on Worthy.com. Worthy can help you get the most for your jewelry along with being speedy and easy to use.
But if you want to gift your heirs with the actual pieces of jewelry, consider both sentiment and value. Sentiment—both yours and theirs—is important, so think about who loves what pieces and why, and/or who gave it to you and whether that matters to any of your heirs.
Since the only two things in life you can’t avoid are death and taxes, someday someone is going to get your good jewelry.
Value is equally important, of course. If you’re leaving a very valuable piece of jewelry to one heir, balance the rest of your bequests (jewelry and otherwise) so that every heir gets an equal-value share. If there’s a reason why one of your heirs should not get an equal share—whether more or less—be sure to address that with an estate attorney.
Finally, here’s what my late mother-in-law did. She lived to 93 and left her estate in excellent order, fairly and equally divided. But she didn’t specify any distribution for her jewelry. One of my two sisters-in-law devised a model I thought was brilliant:
She spread all the jewelry out on the dining room table. Then in family rank order, we all took turns choosing one piece at a time. Elder sister first, then younger sister. Eldest niece, then younger niece. First in-law, then newest in-law (me). We made our first pass through and each took one piece. Then we started again, in order, and made a second pass through. And a third and finally a fourth. Not all the jewelry was of equal value, but not everybody wanted the most expensive pieces anyway.
By luck, everyone did get what they wanted. My first pick was a carnelian ring set in 18k gold with a Greek key design.
Of course, it helped that my mother-in-law had always been fair, always given equal gifts, and always went by age order for everything. But even if we hadn’t each gotten our first choice, nobody could argue that it wasn’t fair, and that’s what matters most in the end.
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