Getting Sentimental in the Executor Role

Getting Sentimental

I’ll wager that any time you get a group of people together who’ve served in the executor role, they’ll agree.  Dealing with the distribution of sentimental items, of all the executor responsibilities, gave them the most heartburn.  There’s just something about the combination of grieving, nostalgia, and (family) relationships that can make this aspect of your executor duties painful.  

So as an executor, what can you do to try to avoid these troubles? 


Each beneficiary wants to see a fair process when the assets are distributed, especially the sentimental items.  If they perceive that, in your executor role, you are being unfair, they will balk.  And one sure-fire way to give the perception of unfairness is to keep the process a secret.  

Communicate exactly how you plan to proceed and be transparent when answering questions the beneficiaries may have about how the process will work.  Give details about how you are going to ensure fairness and listen to their feedback throughout the execution of your executor responsibilities.  

And don’t forget to tell the beneficiaries what’s not on the table.  Some items, especially the sentimental ones, are distributed specifically in the will.  So no matter how much everyone wants grandfather’s military service medal, if his will gives it to the local library to be hung in their hall of honor and they accept it for this purpose, it’s not up for discussion.  

Create an Inventory

If I asked you to list everything that’s currently hiding in your bedroom closet, could you do it?  I don’t know about you, but I would really struggle.  Now multiply that difficulty to trying to remember what’s in an entire house.  For many executors, that’s what they’ll be dealing with.  It is easy to forget cherished items, especially if they’ve been hiding away, untouched for years.  Therefore, it is a good idea to create a list of the personal property of the deceased.  In doing so, you’ll be able to ensure the beneficiaries can have an accurate picture of what’s there and can begin considering their interests in specific items.  

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

Are you struggling to figure out the best method of distributing assets to beneficiaries fairly? Or do you need help thinking through what a meeting to distribute assets might look like?  Your plan has an entire step devoted to this process.  It’s called, “Create a Plan for Distribution or Sale of Personal Property.” It will walk you through determining beneficiary interest in assets, creating a plan for asset distribution and executing a distribution meeting. is designed to help you through every step in the executor process and this is just one way we do so.  

Another great place to turn is the estate attorney, especially if tensions are already high going into this phase of the executor role.  Often the estate executor is also a beneficiary so sometimes bringing in an objective third party can help.  Beyond using your estate attorney, there are auction companies and even websites that can help with the process and serve as that uninterested third party. The idea is to let an expert come in and value items so you’ll have an accurate idea of the monetary value of items.  Just be sure you go with someone the beneficiaries will trust.  

Distributing assets in an estate, especially ones with sentimental value, can be a difficult part of the executor duties.  The good news is, there are ways to make it easier.  With communication and some help from others, you’ll be prepared to tackle this aspect of your executor responsibilities.