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2000 Annual Report

Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?

Laurel Kubin and Jackie Connor

The loss of a family member is already a time wrought with difficult emotions. Conflict within family over the keepsakes and valuables left behind is often devastating to relationships and only adds to sorrow.

It's the prevention of those situations that makes "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?", a program offered through Colorado State University Extension, so popular and sensible. Jackie Connor, Extension agent in Adams County, is among many Colorado family and consumer sciences agents who offer this program to help families sort through yellow pie plates, antiques, family pictures and the like before a family transition--and before conflict arises.

"These situations involve deeply personal items that have memories and emotion attached to them," said Connor. "They often cause controversial and confrontational situations if the right steps haven't been taken in advance to prevent conflict. The transfer of ownership of household items has caused huge fights in families--to the point that family members don't speak to each other again."

Connor explains that although family heirlooms are often disbursed to the next generation after the death of a family elder, these items also may need to be dealt with when a family elder moves into a different living situation--a smaller house, apartment, assisted living center or retirement home.

"Wills and estate plans outline legal ownership transfers of larger, titled items such as real estate and vehicles," said Connor. "But it's the smaller items that often cause conflict. And, it's the smaller items that people find hard to deal with in wills. A common attitude from elders is that their children and family can fight over these items when they're gone. Unfortunately, that's often exactly what happens--they fight. The people the elder wants to have an item usually doesn't get it, or the people who want an item usually don't get it. This situation is often compounded by the complexity of families--children from previous marriages, divorces, the re-marriage of an elderly family member."

The best solution? Parents and grandparents should dictate--in writing--before they become ill or elderly how they want certain items to be disbursed. Not only does this ensure fewer family conflicts, and that last wishes will be carried out, it's also an opportunity to pass on a family history. When making arrangements for these items, the giver should write down its story--where it came from, who passed it down to them, why it meant something special.

For Betty Casady, a nurse who worked at a rest home for years, "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?" is a simple solution to the heartbreak and bitterness she saw many families go through over heirlooms. "Some families don't discuss these things," said Casady. "It's important to relay the history of items that are precious to us. Unless we talk about them to our children and family, they have no idea what they have. It's just 'old stuff' without the history.

"I have my grandmother's yellow pie plate, incidently. I still use it at times. Every time I see it, I remember her fresh fruit pies and the smell of her pantry. She died when I was young, but I still have memories of her, some of them tied to this pie plate. After going through this program, I shared those memories with my two nieces. They had no idea what this pie plate meant to me-- and to them and the history of our family."

Casady has started to mark each of her family treasures with the name of the person she wants to have it. In her family, it will be a complicated process. She has a blended family that includes a step son, a husband with a family of five siblings, and six siblings herself. That means sorting out things from different branches of each family, making sure that certain items are passed on to people who want them, and being fair.

"I have started to sort these things out already," she said. "Working as a nurse, I always hear people talking about regrets, saying 'if only I would have.' Yep, if you're going to share stories and treasures--do it today.

Connor echoes Casady's note that items should be carefully and fairly disbursed. "Some families have strong traditions surrounding certain items--a wedding ring, property, etc," said Connor. "Gender, age, birth order all come into play. Some families choose to have a lottery. Another approach is to give everyone a set amount of play money and let them 'purchase' items that mean the most to them, each taking a turn."

"Everyone has a story," said Casady. "Even the homeless person on the street. Who knows what happens in life along the way to change a person's life. Everyone has a story, and pieces of furniture and plates and linens and watches represent that story. If these things could talk, the stories they could tell." -Dell Rae Moellenberg

For more information, contact your local Colorado State University Extension office.

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