My mother passed away recently after a brief illness. We’d hoped she would be able to bounce back and return to her independent living facility not far from our home here in San Diego. She had always recovered in the past after some time in the hospital and rehabilitation, but this time was different. She continued to decline and passed away with her children and grandchildren around her. She was 94 years old and she’d had a very good life, living independently right up to the end. She didn’t want any heroic measures taken to artificially prolong her life. She didn’t want a feeding tube and she had a DNR order on file. Mom had prearranged her burial so all we had to do was make a call to the funeral home and the rest was taken care of. All of her pre-planning allowed us to focus on making her comfortable and saying our deeply felt good-bye’s, rather than worrying about what she would want us to do for her.
The other thing mom did that we are all grateful for was she made a list of instructions for distributing her possessions; the ones that were important to her that she wanted to leave to certain particular individuals. Mom wasn’t wealthy and she wasn’t one to accumulate a lot of “things”. When she and dad retired in 1977 they sold their house and downsized into a condominium. When dad was gone and mom moved into the retirement home she downsized again so there wasn’t a lot of stuff for my brother and me to dig through and divide up. She specified one small pile for each of us, including our wives and children, and one big pile for Jewish Family Services to haul away.Mom didn’t have a lot of jewelry and what she did have that was of any value she had earmarked certain pieces for each of us. Then there’s the jewelry box with all the everyday costume jewelry she wore. For some, differentiating the two can be a problem. Being a jeweler this wasn’t an issue for me, but most people can’t tell the one from the other. And this can become a big problem after mom passes.
I met with a client this week whose mother passed away two months ago. She brought me four large zip lock baggies filled with jewelry and she doesn’t know what’s real and what’s fake. Believe it or not, this happens often. I get calls from people all the time who tell me their mother or grandmother or spouse has died and they want to know which pieces of their loved one’s jewelry have value and which do not. I’m always happy to sit with them and take the time to examine every piece. Is grandma’s watch solid gold or is it a Timex? Was her favorite ring set with a priceless gemstone or is it cubic zirconia?
This is important for the equal distribution of the items to the various family members so no one feels slighted. And perhaps equally important so that mom’s $10,000 diamond ring doesn’t end up on the 25 cent table at the garage sale. Trust me, this happens all too often. We knew a couple several years ago who made a nice side income going to yard sales every weekend. Over time and with a little help from me they got very good at telling gold and diamonds from gold plate and CZ. As someone who consults with customers often to identify the real from the fake, I was very glad that mom had taken the time to separate the two and make her wishes known about their distribution.
So if you haven’t already done so, please ask mom, dad or grandma to sit with you and open their jewelry box. Help them make a list of what’s real, which pieces have a story and what’s for Goodwill. And then sort through your own jewelry box and make your own list. Ask your family, at least the ones you like, if there’s jewelry they would like to have when you’re no longer able to enjoy it. Give them the gift of knowing your wishes for your end of life care as well as the disposition of your possessions. Allow your jewelry to become a treasured memory. It’s a gift they’ll appreciate long after you’re gone.