Stuff Tore a Family Apart. What a Shame.

Junk Shop, Astoria

Worth destroying a family over?

“There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

Recently, my wife’s grandmother passed away at age 90. At the viewing, her 89 year old younger sister came to pay her respects.

This would normally not be a noteworthy occasion, except, in this case, they’d not seen each other in 18 years, since the passing of their mother.

I don’t know all of the details, and, honestly, I really don’t care to either. From what I understand, when their mother died, there was a house full of stuff. Apparently, the will wasn’t very clear about who got what, because family members started fighting over things like china and jewelry.

We’re not talking about the Hope Diamond or bling that people would wear to Oscars night. This was good but not great stuff that the two sides of the family were fighting over.

It also wasn’t a case where one side or the other was particularly destitute, so they could have used the things to sell them to generate money to live. While neither family was rich, they could certainly feed, house, and clothe themselves.

So, two sisters, both in their early 70s, decided to terminate their relationship because of a snit over what probably amounted to no more than $10,000 worth of stuff.

Furthermore, once the dust settled and all of the feathers got back into place, neither one of them reached out to the other to mend fences or to admit that they’d gotten into a hissy fit (yes, I am a product of the South) over a bunch of stuff.

Pride got in the way.


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My wife’s grandmother talked about reaching out to her sister to start to rebuild the relationship, but she never did because she didn’t want to admit she was wrong. Her sister could just as easily have picked up the phone as well. But, neither did, and my wife’s grandmother died.

Her sister had to come say goodbye (and I hope “I’m sorry”) to a person who could no longer respond back or give forgiveness.

I can only hope that my wife’s family has learned the lessons of the stupidity that was on display 18 years ago and not let her grandmother’s belongings (meager as they are) tear another family apart.

It’s just stuff. Material possessions. Very few people need the hand-me-downs of a previous generation to make it from day to day. The rest, who cast covetous eyes on the belongings of others are, as I have said before, teat suckers.

Stuff won’t make you happy. There are many things in the world which can make you happy: experiences, relationships, love, fulfillment, eudaimonia. Stuff is not in that list.

If stuff is in that list, you’re no better than Gollum. He looked at the ring every day. He treasured it. He admired it. It changed him into a monster.

Don’t let fights over stuff destroy a family. If you have stuff and want to leave a legacy, make sure your affairs are in order sooner rather than later to avoid the tiffs and scuffles that lead to Hatfield/McCoy rivalries.

Better yet, have a good discussion with everyone involved and tell them if they want their own stuff, they should go out and earn it, not wait for you to peel the garlic so they can pick over your goods like jackals at a kill.

Don’t be a jackal. Don’t let your family become a jackal.

Have you ever seen a good knock-down, drag-out fight over an inheritance? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

About Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, is the Chief Technology officer of myFinancialAnswers, an online comprehensive financial planning service.

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