Dear Rachel,

My mother died a few months ago, after a long life. My father predeceased her. My older brother, younger sister and myself finally set about sorting through her possessions. She left no real estate and little money, so there was no cause forI'm sure this situation wouldn't have made our mother happy controversy. But soon, we began fighting over her few meager possessions—some heirloom jewelry, a few antiques, and a couple of paintings and pieces of furniture. My siblings and I have never been super close, but until now we’ve gotten along fairly well. However, this inheritance has brought out the worst in us, and we have come to the point that we aren’t speaking. I’m sure this situation wouldn’t have made our mother happy, but I don’t know how it’s going to mend itself as each of us claims the right to the possessions we want. Can you please help us?

Haggling over Inheritance

Dear Trying to Work It Out,

First of all, I want to offer my condolences on the loss of your mother. Losing one’s mother is very traumatic, and it is quite possible that your family feud is a way (albeit not a good way) of you and your siblings dealing with the tremendous pain.

There is no question that this family argument among her children, incontestably your mother’s most precious possessions, would not make your mother happy and is causing her grief in the World of Truth, especially since there possessions have no meaning. It is also ironic because this will become the inheritance you leave your children, and perhaps also, unfortunately, the legacy of the feud. I am aware, however, that the possessions are at least partly symbolic of your childhood and your mother’s love, and you each have an understandable attachment to them.

So, I’d like to offer a few suggestions that might heal the rift.

  1. First of all, offer to get together with your siblings in a quiet, neutral place and have dinner together. Try not to discuss the inheritance for one evening. Maybe share some warm memories of your childhood and your mother.
  2. Have an unbiased third party decide how the items should be allotted, perhaps a rabbi or a mediator. There are also Jewish laws about inheritance that may apply.
  3. Ask each of your siblings to make a list of the pieces they really want, and why and which pieces are negotiable; you do the same. It might turn out that it’s not everything that’s being fought over, and perhaps one or another’s claim is more valid because of some emotional bond to the piece. Let each one make a case for the items they want without judgment or rancor.
  4. Ask your siblings if they would be agreeable if the pieces that are under contention can be divided up by lottery. The Land of Israel was divided that way, and there isn’t a more valuable inheritance.
  5. Another option to consider is rotating the things between you so that the furniture and jewelry are at each of your homes in turn for several months at a time. Then you all get to enjoy them.
  6. Perhaps you could sell the disputed articles and use the money to do something in your mother’s memory, like start a fund of some sort or make a donation to a worthy charity in her name.

Whatever solution you choose, no item—no matter how monetarily or emotionallyNo item is worth a family rift valuable—is worth a family rift. People are more valuable than any object, and so is a sibling relationship. Objects may be passed on from generation to generation, but people, as you have experienced, don’t last that long. Cherish the time you have together; don’t waste it fighting over material things.

The most important legacy you share is being part of the Jewish people, and our most prized possession is the Torah.

May you always value the important things until the age of 120!