CHICAGO — Cindi Copeland can’t bear the thought of parting with the cedar hope chest her grandmother received as an engagement gift in the 1930s. She even held on to the $100 moth-insurance certificate, which expired more than 75 years ago.
She cherishes the Blue Garland china her mother acquired with grocery stamps, though it has never made its way from the china cabinet to the dining room table. And she’s just as fond of the nearly 1,000 slides from her grandfather’s vacation in Europe a half-century ago.
Too bad her sons don’t feel the same way.
As the oldest of her four siblings, Copeland, 54, is the family’s memory keeper. Heirlooms that once belonged to her parents and grandparents are displayed throughout her Warrenville, Ill., home, alongside mementos of her own and several from her husband’s side of the family.
Copeland’s sons, ages 19 and 25, have expressed little or no interest in her collection. “I feel a connection to it because I know the stories behind it,” she said. “I’ve tried to tell my boys so they will care. But when I was their age, I didn’t care either.”
Passing down heirlooms from one generation to the next has long been tradition. But Copeland and many other baby boomers fear that their children and grandchildren will end up tossing the family treasures like a worn-out pair of gym shoes.
“A lot of young people are so transient; they don’t stay anywhere very long. They rent apartments and don’t own anything,” said Copeland, whose sons live at home. “They don’t want to be tied down to family heirlooms that don’t mean anything to them.”
Julie Hall, a North Carolina liquidation appraiser known as The Estate Lady, said this has become a dilemma for a growing number of middle-age people who are trying to come to terms with a harsh reality: Often what they consider to be jewels, their children and grandchildren see as junk.
“Though they have the best intentions, boomers have a tendency to keep too much stuff for subsequent generations, though the kids have already told them they don’t want anything,” said Hall, author of the book “The Boomer Burden: Dealing With Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff.”
“They end up setting those kids up for a burden as they age and pass away. So in the children’s haste to get rid of it, it goes into a family yard sale for $10,” she said.
As their parents die, baby boomers from 48 to 66 are expected to be on the receiving end of the largest transfer of wealth in U.S. history: $8.4 trillion, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Among the two-thirds of boomer households expected to receive an inheritance, the median amount is $64,000.
But boomers have a different idea about what’s important than their elders, who lived through the Great Depression and spent their lives accumulating money and material things that they could leave to their children.
A study by the investment firm U.S. Trust found that fewer than half of wealthy boomers say leaving their children a monetary inheritance is a priority. One in 4 said they were concerned that money would make their children lazy, and 1 in 5 said their children would probably just waste it.
According to another study by Allianz Life Insurance Co., 86 percent of boomers said inheriting family stories and traditions is more important than inheriting money.
They are more likely to place value on things that have passed down through the family, Hall said.
“Baby boomers have to deal with so much stuff because the previous generation — the Depression generation — did not deal with their parents’ stuff. Those from the Depression era felt like they were leaving their children a legacy,” said Hall, who owns an estate sale and liquidating business in Charlotte, N.C.“And the boomers absorbed it all.”