Who gets grandpa’s tools?

November 2008

It can be the little things in an estate that cause the biggest disagreements. Make a plan to distribute these treasures before you die.

If you are looking for a new winter project that will make huge deposits into your family’s emotional bank account, read on. Many families seeking to settle the estate of loved ones are tangled up in the emotion around the “non-titled property,” what Canadians call “personal effects.”

The University of Minnesota extension service developed a program called “Who gets grandma’s yellow pie plate?” which gives these reasons why giving away the estate stuff is so difficult:

  • Avoidance of the issue. This is highly sensitive decision-making.
  • Different family perceptions of what is “fair.”
  • Lack of communication and unwritten family rules. “We don’t talk about asking for stuff.”
  • Family history and unresolved conflicts. “Remember what your aunt did last time!”
  • Decisions are not made ahead of death, they wait until a crisis hits.

Giving away grandpa’s tools is difficult because he likely didn’t write down a list of whom he would like his things to go to. There is no title or property ownership document of his lathe, screwdrivers, or toolbox. Sentimental meanings attached to the tools make decisions more emotional. When you start distributing personal property you are in the grieving process of saying “goodbye” to a loved one connected to the memories of the effects. Who teaches you which distribution methods work best? What are the consequences of doing nothing?

Tips to make your property distribution go more smoothly

  1. Go through old papers and discard outdated items.
  2. Sell items or gift them to loved ones before you expire.
  3. Talk to friends about what distribution methods worked well for them.
  4. Make an appointment with family at a specific time other than family celebrations to discuss the issue of giving away your treasures.
  5. Take charge now. The funeral is “a piece of cake compared to cleaning out the house, shed, and closing the door for the last time,” says Sharon Kickertz-Gerbig.

Your goals
Grandma and grandpa, what are your goals for letting go of your treasures and stuff?

  • To celebrate the stories and memories that go with the treasure.
  • To improve family relationships by sharing your intent regarding the distribution.
  • To be fair to all involved, using a rotating turn system to choose what items family members or friends would like to inherit.
  • To preserve memories by writing a story that goes along with the items gifted.
  • To contribute to society by donating items to a local archive or museum for display.

What not to do
I found a note handwritten by a loved one that said “distribute my personal effects evenly among the family in an amicable fashion.” That is an impossible task. What I did do is visit many of my cousins and let them choose one or two things that would remind them of the person deceased. They were pleased that their memory of their loved ones was respected.

Individuals and heirs are likely to feel the outcome are “fair” if they have been involved in the decision of distribution or the process. Making the decision before death is the best way when the owner decides who receives property. Special memories and stories can be shared.

My mom gave me a beautiful fur coat that she had purchased by selling a truckload of wheat. She bought the coat with my sister, who pre-deceased her, and she was pleased that I would make good use of the gift. When folks compliment me on my coat, I am pleased to say that it was a thoughtful gift from my mom, before she died. We all have heard the horror stories about the family Bible being found in the garbage, or personal effects strewn across the lawn when a loved one dies and someone ravages the estate effects. When decisions are made after death or a crisis, they may not accurately reflect the owner’s wishes. Misunderstanding among heirs can be averted if you list “who gets what and why…and attach that to your will.”

Some folks have seen treasures they wanted go up for public auction. Your family might want to break the silence and open up the discussion while grandpa is still able to talk about where he wants his tools to go. Some families have used equal piles of Monopoly money to “pretend purchase” the items of the estate they want. One family simply took turns choosing what was important to them, and they had a great deal of respect for each other to be able to do this. Another family put a dollar value on the items to be distributed and then matched dollar values as closely as possible. Inheritance is considered “unfair” when moral and ethical standards are not followed. For example, pieces of antique tools “disappear” from grandpa’s shed while he is in hospital. Or siblings help themselves to the yard site inventory that was to go “lock, stock, and barrel” to the new family owner.

All of the immediate family members should have a “voice in the decisions of distribution.” You need to also consider the in-laws, and grandchildren, and special friends.

Use a simple paper with a description of the item, the story behind the item, and why the item is special to you. The giver and the heirs can each do this to determine who is the best emotional match for the treasure to be passed on to the next generation. What special items does your parent have that you hope they will pass on or transfer to you? Why is that item special to you?

As the giver, pass on the story. List the special item, describe it, and state who you would like it to go to, and why. Sign the paper, and date it.

Masking tape on items can be lifted and fall off. Having a complete list attached to your will, or in the hands of your trusted executor may be a better idea. I think the best way to share your treasures is to give them to your heirs and friends before you die.

If you are 50 years old or older, this article will resonate with you because you have likely already had to deal with someone else’s stuff. People in their 50s typically want a simpler lifestyle and don’t need or want more stuff. People in their 80s are the children of the depression and they like the security of having stuff. So there is lots of talking, story-telling, and sharing to do this winter.

Let me know what distribution system has worked well for your family. We all need to learn from each other so that folks don’t want to kill each other with grandpa’s favorite hammer.

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.


Rave reviews

“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
“Elaine helped me allocate $1 Million of assets the night I listened to her. Elaine’s presentation brings value to the use of my services in my office.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
“Helped me develop my framework to start having constructive and meaningful conversations around the farm.”
Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
“Elaine gives me excellent tools that help me work with my clients!”
Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

Book Elaine
for your next event

Contact Elaine to start the conversation.

+1-204-534-7466 | elaine(at)

Contact Elaine