The Moneyist: My mother is giving away my late grandmother’s jewelry. Is it OK to accept a piece — and then sell it?

Dear Quentin,

My grandmother recently passed away, and the will did not mention her jewelry. 

My mom is trying to decide what to do with my grandma’s jewelry. She wants to be fair, but is having a hard time deciding what is fair. No one else who is next of kin wants the jewelry. The next family in line to offer it to are my siblings and me. 

There are enough pieces of jewelry to divide among all of us grandkids. Should my mother offer each grandkid a piece of jewelry even if they sell it, or should the jewelry be offered only to those who want it for sentimental value and will keep it? What is the etiquette surrounding this?


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Dear Laura,

Some people obsess over buying jewelry, while others simply give it away. 

As with all such mementos, your mother is correct in wanting these pieces to go to a home that will treasure the item, appreciate their sentimental value, and also understand what they represent. These jewels embody not only a price tag but also your grandmother’s sense of style, the weight of memories of all the occasions where they were worn, and how they made her feel when she wore them.

Your mother is now looking at distributing the jewelry to your family members over immediate beneficiaries because others have been offered the jewelry and passed on the chance. In other words, they are presumably not interested in wearing it or keeping it to hand down to younger generations.

For that reason, to accept the jewelry without stating your intention would be sharp practice. I’m not saying it’s wrong — I’ll leave it up to the jewelry gods to rule on that. But doing so does go against the spirit of the gift and your mother’s thoughtfulness. If you don’t want the items, say so, and allow your mother to make an informed decision about who gets what.

Picture it: In five or 10 years’ time, your mother asks you, “Could I borrow Grandma’s sapphire ring?” And you reply, “Actually, I sold it.”

Imagine how she would feel. Therein lies your answer. 

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