Pay Dirt

I Have a Plan for My Grandmother’s Jewelry. It Might Spark a Sibling War.

Woman using a magnifying glass to look at a ring.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by InnerVisionPRO/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

My grandma passed away last month She did not have much money. Aside from her modest house and her car, everything she left behind is mainly sentimental, like clothes, knickknacks, etc. The exception is her jewelry. There are three pieces that my grandma always said she wanted me and my two sisters to inherit: her wedding ring, a sapphire pendant, and a pair of diamond earrings.

When I said something about this to my mom, she seemed to get uncomfortable and said she was worried that the disparity in the value of the pieces would be unfair. As it turns out, the pendant and earrings are fake. Not fake as in lab-grown, but fake like blue glass and cubic zirconia. The ring is worth five times more than the other two pieces combined. They were gifts from my grandpa early in their marriage when they were just starting out, and later on, when they were doing better financially, he apparently offered to replace them with “the real thing” and my grandma declined. My oldest sister always admired the pendant and my middle sister had her eye on the earrings. I assume they believed as I did, that the stones were real. Grandma always looked so elegant when she wore them that I never gave it any thought, but my mom says it’s pretty obvious when you look at them up close.

There is a history of some sibling rivalry between me and my sisters, with them accusing me of being the favorite daughter when we were growing up. We get along better these days but now I’m worried my mom is right and they will be upset about the jewelry. She says the fairest thing to do would be to sell everything and divide up the money three ways, but I hate the thought of losing the jewelry and I know my sisters would agree about that.

—Unequal Inheritance

Dear Unequal Inheritance,

Inherited jewelry (with some exceptions) is primarily sentimental. My economics education was all about valuing intangibles. While the wedding ring might be worth more on the open market, it’s possible your sisters value the pieces they had their eye on and keeping the jewelry in the family more than getting cash. Jewelry, like homes, only realizes its value when sold (and sometimes that isn’t tied to the value of the materials—like this $65 fake pearl necklace that went for over $200,000 at auction).

It’s time to talk with your sisters about the jewelry, not your mom. You are relying on your mother’s opinions and your own assumptions. You don’t have to present any option as a done deal. Talk with your sisters about being surprised the necklace and earrings are fake and work together (without your mom’s interference) to find a solution that feels fair to everyone. If your sisters also feel strongly about keeping the jewelry, they might see that the most equitable solution (selling and splitting the proceeds) isn’t the most desirable. You could also talk to them about compensating differently—perhaps they get a larger share from other parts of her estate (if they stand to inherit any of it), and you get the ring. Or no one gets the ring right now, but you save it for the first of you to get married. Only sell the jewelry if it’s the only way to keep the peace. No ring is worth permanently hurting your relationship with your sisters.


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