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Sunday, September 6, 2020

If I want furniture from my Dad's estate, do I have to purchase it from the other beneficiaries?

Today I'm going to post about another question I received from a reader. It's one of those "how exactly does this work" questions that I know of are interest to many of you. Here it is, with my comments below: 

"If I want furniture from my dads estate do i need to purchase it from the other beneficiaries? Please explain how that works."

As usual, the answer to the question is not a simple yes or no, but let me start by saying that usually there is no need for a beneficiary to purchase items.

First of all, it is going to depend on your status under the will. Are you a beneficiary of the residue of the estate? Is your share an equal share with others or a defined amount? Because you said that it's your father's estate, I'm going to make the assumption that you are supposed to take an equal share of the estate with your siblings. If you are not a beneficiary of the residue of the estate, then you will most likely have to purchase the items you want.

Secondly, it is going to depend on the wording of the will. Does the will address what is to happen with household goods? Are they simply lumped into the residue along with everything else? Were the contents of the house left to a specific person? The other option, of course, is that there was no will and you are all equal beneficiaries under the intestacy law of your province.

I find that most wills fall short when it comes to household goods. Nobody seems to think it worthwhile to deal with them in the will, even though the reality is that the division of goods can be an extremely difficult and emotional transaction for everyone. Because you are asking this particular question, I am going to assume that your father's will did not leave any specific instructions about division of household goods. If it is like most wills, they are simply not mentioned.

When they are not mentioned, the household goods become part of the residue of the estate and must be divided equally among the beneficiaries. This means equal in terms of dollar value. Seriously, there couldn't be a worse way of doing things but this is what most families are stuck with.

So this brings me to your question of whether you have to purchase the items. Some families do ask beneficiaries to purchase items because it is a simple method of keeping track of the value of things. Once everyone has bought what they want, the money is divided equally. However, this is not the only way, nor is it even the most common way things are done. Inheriting household items generally does not cost you money.

It makes sense for everyone to gather at the house on the same day and use a method of indicating which items they would like to receive. If nobody else wants an item you  have chosen, then you get that item. If two people want the same item, the executor will use a neutral method such as tossing a coin to see who gets it. Of course, all of that has to be done while a tally is kept of the values so that an equal division takes place. Most of the time, no money changes hands because it is simply a division of what is in the house.

If you want a couch that is worth $1,000, certainly you could purchase it (from the executor, not from the beneficiaries) or you could trade it off for other items from the estate that you would otherwise have received. Say, the dining room set that you were going to get that is also worth $1,000. The money works out the same, so this method is legitimate. If you've already received your equal share of the furniture and there is an additional item that you particularly want, you could purchase it from the person who received it.

In reality, a lot of families will voluntarily waive their right to receive exactly the same value of household goods as their siblings. Not every item in the house is wanted by anyone, and sometimes beneficiaries don't actually want any of the household goods. As long as all of the residuary beneficiaries agree, there can be an unequal division of the furniture.


  1. Lynne,

    I am still a bit confused. If the Executor is in control of the entire Estate (via the Will) then I assume the Executor can sell all the chattels, the same way that he can, (has a legal right) sell the Estate Property?


    1. Webeye, in the letter of the law, you are correct. An executor can decide which estate assets are to be sold and at what price they are to be sold. In real life though, a full-scale sale of everything in the house without anyone getting a chance to take sentimental items would cause a mutiny.


  2. Thanks for that. In my example I allowed the beneficiary (only one other ) to get at least 90% or more of all the chattels as part of brotherly love and goodwill at no cost. All I wanted was the odd memento. Apparently that was not enough. TBC.


  3. To make a long story short we r in the midst of changing my mothers will due to recently finding out that my brother and his wife and 3 kids who have been living with her for the past 20 years has for the past 5 years since my mothers stroke has convinced her to be joint on her checking account and has also convinced her to out his name on the deed to her house. He says he was her power of attorney and believed him. We just recently found out hes been taking money from her account for his and his family's personal things. Like beer, cigarettes and so many other large amounts of money that we r totally in shock about. He has now racked up $250,000 in mortgage debt that my mother has been falsely told that they need money to pay Bill's and was able to get her to sign documents 3 times to remortgage her home, which she had no mortgage in her home since our parents bought the home. Our father passed way 22 years ago. My mother is now having a
    new will made to appoint my sister and I as power of attorney and so forth. Our problem is that the lawyer we hired is not complying with my mothers wishes. She is excluding a niece because her mother, my sister, gas passed away and he feels strongly about my mother jeaving her an equal share and my mother doesnt want that simply because my mother gave my sister, her daughter, a lot of money while she was alive and my mother does not want to leave her grandaughter my niece, any more money than she is leaving all the other grandchildren. But this lawyer is telling us that because my sister had passed, her daughter should get an equal share of the estate. But my mother feels my sister has received her inheritance when she was alive. What can I say to this lawyer. He voicing his opinion on this and in the will he assumed this would be what my mother wants without asking her why and is threatening us that he may not take on this writing of the will because he thinks there is sible rivalry. Nobody knows the extend of the damage our brother has done to our 89 year old and also the money she has doled out for years to some of her children, me excluded. I dont care, all I am concerned about is making sure my mother has enough money to live the rest of her life in peace. We feel our mother is being pressured by this lawyer and have to go along with him so we can get the papers fast. Everyday that will is delayed, our brother gets into account everyday taking what he wants with her not knowing anything. He won't even give her her mail because he had do much to hide from her. It's very bad that a child can do this to a parent, nevermind an elder one. Please reply, we really need help as to how to handle this lawyer. We r in Ontario Canada. Thankyou in advance for your advise.

  4. Lynne, thanks in advance for any comment you can make. I'm executor of my mother's will. I wanted to use a sort of "round robin" approach to distributing personal property; beneficiaries would compile a list, and as we went through it, we'd bid with Monopoloy money for any items that were desired by more than one. But one of my siblings lives outside of Canada in a small flat. Shipping charges and his small living space will not allow him to accept/bid on many of the items (furniture, pottery, dishes, etc.). To "make it fair," he's insisting I have everything appraised and then bid on -- since he'll bid on nothing, he expects to receive cash in lieu. However, since they incur a financial penalty for accepting my mother's personal property, this means that the other beneficiaries will refuse to bid on many items that they may want -- but not enough to pay for. If this comes to pass, I'll basically have to auction a lot of sentimentally valuable items, and receive pennies on the dollar. Do you see a sensible way forward?


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