I am the Keeper of the Family Keepsakes

I sit on a folding chair in my garage surrounded by the leftovers of several people’s lives. This weekend I am holding a garage sale, where I hope to finally get rid of these things and make a little cash. The wares include 200 vinyl records, four cases of CDs, several piles of books, an electric typewriter, two FAX machines, darkroom equipment, Christmas decorations, wine glasses, mugs, and more. I have a basket of refrigerator magnets and knickknacks to give away. Where did it all come from? Some of it was mine, some my late husband’s, but a lot comes from his mother, father and brother, all deceased. All of the things that weren’t taken in the initial rush after they died have ended up with me.
There’s lots more in the house. I’m not ready to sell it, at least not yet, not my mother’s sheet music, my mother-in-law’s china, my grandmother’s tea cups and her rocking chair, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides and movies, more crocheted afghans than I have beds, and some of my husband’s clothing that I can’t let go. I seem to be the inheritor of everything. I give away or sell as much as I can. I distribute things to other family members, but I am still the keeper, the curator, the guardian of what’s left that is too precious to sell or give away.
I’m sentimental. I admit it. I can attach significance to the most seemingly insignificant things. The adorable little copper cup in which I keep my paper clips was part of my husband’s shot glass collection. I look at it and remember our antique store expeditions, so many happy days. Reminders of Fred are everywhere in this house, blended with my own cluttered collection of keepsakes.
I know people who would toss it all in a dumpster and forget it about it. Every sign of the lost loved one would disappear. I fear that’s what will happen to my own stuff when I die.
I have written a will and allotted the house, car, money and other big things to my stepchildren, my niece and nephew, and a couple favorite charities, but what will happen to the little things like pictures and jewelry? I suppose it will be thrown away or put out in a yard sale like I’m doing this weekend. I’m the end of my branch of the family tree. As a childless woman, why do I bother keeping photos and souvenirs? Who am I saving it for?
I’m saving it for me. Seeing these things, having these things makes me happy. It would be wonderful to have grown children to step in and take care of things when I’m incapacitated or dead, but I don’t. Still, I don’t see it being much different from what happened to my grandfather’s house and everything in it: dumpster, yard sale, relatives taking home what they wanted. He had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Parent or not, the process ends up being the same. The only difference is who’s doing it and whether it’s a chore or a labor of love.
People who have children always tell me you can’t count on your kids to step in, so make yourself a will, choose an executor (my brother is mine), and make your wishes known as much as you can. Meanwhile, go ahead and save what makes you happy, just for you. Why not?
Have you inherited your loved one’s things? What did you do with them? Do you worry about what will happen to your things if you don’t have children? Let’s talk in the comments.

Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick

Free to Bequeathe

Without children to be our natural heirs, we childless folks may struggle with what to do with our worldly goods when we shuffle off to heaven. To whom do we leave our photo albums? Who will care about my collection of antique ruby glass? But we are also free to do whatever we want with our stuff. As an old text called Family Systems and Inheritance Patterns notes, childless people often name outside beneficiaries and really tick off their families.

Many childless people leave their estates to good causes, such as scholarships, charities, animal shelters, medical research, etc. That’s pretty much what I plan to do.

But some folks go a little farther outside the norm. For example, George Bernard Shaw bequeathed millions to anyone who could devise a new alphabet that made more sense than the one we have. Louis da Camara, a Portuguese man with no family, picked strangers out of a Lisbon phone book to be his heirs. Ed Headrick, perfector of the Frisbee, asked that his ashes be molded into memorial discs to be sold, with profits to be used for a Frisbee museum. My favorite: Ruth Lilly, an amateur poet, left $100 million to a poetry magazine that had repeatedly rejected her work.

Another good one from the UK: A Mr. F left several relatives each “one penny as that is what they are worth as members of my family.” Show of hands: how many of us are tempted to do that? Me too.

How about you? Have you made a will? Who will inherit your earthly wealth? Did you know that in some states, including Oregon, where I live, stepchildren are not considered your legal heirs unless you write them into your will? What unusual bequests have you heard about or considered doing? Without children–and assuming the spouse goes first–we are free to bequeath as we please. Any thoughts?