The following is my opinion, based on some musings over the last few years. If you disagree, I'm interested in your rationale.
My impression is that in a lot (most?) families, the kids get most of the family heirlooms, and the grandkids mostly get the leftovers -- which a handful of exceptions where the grandparent specifically gives the grandkid an item.
On the one hand, the child of the deceased probably has strong memories of the item from his/her childhood. So he or she would probably enjoy having them. But at the same time, the grandchild would have strong memories if the item was used, or on display, at the grandparent's house, and the grandchild visited the house fairly regularly. So the child would enjoy having them as well.
If the child inherits the items and doesn't immediately pass them on to his/her kid (i.e. the grandchild of the deceased), then many of the items are likely to go into storage -- because the child of the deceased already has a household set up, with sufficient chairs, sofas, appliances, tools, and etc. Two implications of this are that the grandchild of the deceased won't see them again (until settling the estate of **his/her** parent), and the great-grandchild of the deceased (i.e. the grandchild of the person who received the items) will not have any memories of these items (because they are stored away). Thus the family history of those items are less likely to be passed on, and ''I remember [name of item]''-ness of those items are less likely to be created.
The exception, of course, are when room **is** made for those items to be actively used or displayed -- or when the child of the deceased actually passes the items down prior to his or her own death.
For example: Person X is in her late 20s or early 30s -- still ''setting up house'' to a certain extent. Her grandmother died in her 80s. Person X's parents are in their 50s or 60s.
Let's say there was a rocking chair that was always in the living room. Person X could use a rocking chair, because she doesn't have a lot of furniture.
If her parents take the rocking chair, but don't have room for it, it goes in the attic. When Person X's parents die in **their** 80s, Person X would receive the chair -- but she herself is now in her 50s or 60s, and doesn't really need another chair -- so she offers it to her own children. However, they've never seen this chair before -- so except for being told that it belonged to their great-grandmother, they have no real attachment to it.
If, on the other hand, the inheritance skipped a generation, such that Person X directly received the rocking chair from her grandmother's estate, then she would receive it during her life stage where she could easily make use of additional items. She would have strong personal memories of seeing the chair at her grandmother's place. And when Person X dies, **her** children and grandchildren would remember the chair being in Person X's home.
Again, ideally, the chair would skip a generation -- to go to her grandchildren
-- because they would probably be at a life stage to use extra furniture, whereas Person X's own children would themselves be in their 50s or 60s.
To elaborate on the problem of losing family history: people are more likely to know the background of an item if it is part of their daily lives (e.g. growing up with it), rather than if they are only exposed to it espisodically (e.g. visting grandma every summer). If Person X immediately received the rocking chair upon the death of her grandmother, her parent could provide her with additional background on the chair -- as the grandmother is now dead and can not. However, if the chair went to Person X's parents, then when the parents died, Person X would not have anyone (neither parents nor grandparents) to explain the family significance. (Well -- maybe siblings of the parents, if they haven't pre-deceased the parents.)
I do not mean to say that children should receive **nothing** from the estates of the parents. Rather, that if they are at a life stage that they do not have room for -- or use for -- inherited items, they should be passed along as soon as possible, rather than stockpiled. I don't deny personal sentimentality -- I have a lot of that myself -- but perhaps saving inherited things in moderation.
Some exceptions to my ''skipping a generation'' idea would be when the child of the deceased has immediate use of the item, and would actually have it out on display or make use of it. Or if the child of the deceased intends to pass it along once **her** own child is in a situation to receive the item: for example, if a college student's gradmother dies, and the student still lives in the dorms, then the student's parent would take possession of various furniture items, but pass them along when the student graduates and (eventually!) gets a house.
An example of inheritance working well is that I have my grandparents' sofa and matching easy chair: when my grandfather died, everyone else in my family had plenty of furniture, so I received them. They are both in our living room; we use them every day; I have strong memories of them over the years at my grandparents' house; and my children (and grandchildren) will also have strong memories of them.
An example of inheritance **not** working well would be the child of the deceased taking a stack of fancy tablecloths and putting them in her own linen closet (which most non-household members do not explore), and then 40 years later her own children going through her estate and not realizing that the tablecloths had been in the family for many generations.
I think recognizing hobbies and interests that skip a generation is also important. For example, imagine a grandmother was into knitting; none of her children did knitting; but she has a granddaughter who knits. The grandmother dies, and although the granddaughter expresses an interest in the knitting needles, all of her knitting gear goes to the granddaughter's aunt to ''intends to take up knitting'', but never does. When that person dies, the friends who settle her estate find the knitting needles, go ''Eh -- knitting needles'', and either throw them away or donate them to a thrift store. Whereas if the granddaughter who knits had directly received them, then she would sometimes be knitting with her grandmother's favorite knitting needles: that's kind of neat.
My argument also speaks strongly, I suppose, to divesting of a lot of your stuff **before** you die -- so that you can choose who receives it, and ensure that the story behind it is communicated. Perhaps moving into a retirement home, or moving into a smaller house, has a latent function of pre-distributing your belongings: it worked for my paternal grandparents.
My argument also speaks strongly to documenting the family history of heirlooms -- perhaps typing up the lineage and taping it to the back of a dresser drawer?
I inadvertently benefitted from graduate school delaying my life progress by ten years: when my paternal grandfather moved into assisted care, my younger brother (six years younger) and I were the only ones among his descendants who did not yet have a house. Because I was already interested in woodworking, but had not yet set up a workshop, I ended up getting a large proportion of his tools -- particularly his hand tools, as most of his kids and grandkids tended towards using power tools. Consequently, about 80% of my tools are from my grandfather's estate -- and that's pretty neat.
Similarly, when one of my maternal grandfather's best friends died (no children), my grandfather saved a trumpet and a clarinet that had belonged to the man's wife, and passed it along to me. Grandpa knew that none of his children or grandchildren really played music -- just me. And I do indeed appreciate it. :)
So: I'm not saying that children shouldn't receive **any** family heirlooms, or things they remember from their childhood. But they should try to ''throw downstream'' as much as they can.
Labels: family, wisdom