Dear Snarky – Why Duct Tape Shouldn’t Be Used for Estate Planning

Dear Snarky,

My mother recently died and over the years she told us what pieces of furniture, silver etc that she would like for each of her three daughters to have. My mother was an avid collector of antiques and had many beautiful things in her home. To make sure we each got what she wanted she wrote our names on duct tape and then put that on the bottom of the furniture, china, and silver. For her jewelry she put it it plastic bags with a duct tape label.

When she passed my older sister got an inordinate amount of furniture, jewelry and silver left to her. My younger sister and I were confused by this because our mom was very “even-steven” in her dealings with us. She always made sure we had the same number of Christmas presents etc.

Well, come to find out my sister changed the names on a number of items. Her eldest daughter who is on the outs with her mother told us that her mom got to the house right after our mother died and went on a duct tape rampage.

Her daughter said our sister was ripping off the duct tape from the bottom of chairs etc and then used new duct tape to write in her name and stuck that on the most expensive furniture and an antique silver tea set that’s valued at over $50,000. Our niece even went so far as to record her mom doing this and showed us the video on her phone.

Both my sister and I were outraged and when we confronted our sister her ridiculous response was “finders keepers.” During all this our niece took smaller pieces like the silver tea set from her mother’s home and some jewelry and gave/returned it to me and my sister.

To make a long story short now my sister is saying she’s going to call the police on us if we don’t return the items her daughter gave us. It’s such a mess but I know our sister is thinking she can bully us into just giving up a significant portion of the estate. Any advice on what we can do to make sure our eldest sister doesn’t win this battle?

Signed, Not Ready to Give In

Dear Not Ready,

You’re right this is a mess and the person you should really be upset with is your dearly departed mother. Why, oh, why didn’t she have a will that spelled out exactly what pieces of furniture, jewelry and silver each of you would be getting.

I’m still gobsmacked that a woman with such a significant collection of antiques thought it would be a good idea to use duct tape to parcel out her estate. I’m also alarmed that you and your sisters didn’t beg, like on your hands and knees begging, for your mother to put her desires in writing and make it part of her will. I’m not an attorney but what I do know is that you need to get a good one and fast.

I would also suggest telling your niece that she needs to stop with her delivery of items from her mother’s home. I get it – she doesn’t have the best relationship with her mom and this is a way for her to express that and perhaps even correct what she sees as an egregious wrong. But enough is enough. At this point she’s just making it worse.

You need to prepare yourself for a long-drawn-out estate battle. I would get a team of professionals – estate attorneys, appraisers – you name it and go in with a solid plan to split all the contents of the house evenly.

Of course, this would mean your sister returning what she purloined but I’m thinking the video should help push her in the right direction. Yes, I know she engaged in a grift but for the sake of expediency and your mental health don’t attempt to exact revenge just go for each sister getting one third of the value of the contents of the house.

Good luck because you’re going to need it.