3. In the absence of parental guidance, the kids can make a pact to keep the peace.

Start with the idea that your folks (probably) wouldn't have wanted you to come to blows over stuff. Talk about this with your sibs. Focus on honoring your parents' memories and respecting each others' feelings, rather than just getting what you want out of the deal.

If you hit a sticking point, consider the option of donating the item to charity or selling it to split the proceeds. Other methods that can be used include:

  • Drawing straws, with the short straw picking first and the others going next in order of straw size. (Dice or playing cards can also be used to select who goes first, who goes next and so on.)
  • Using birth order, with the oldest choosing first and the youngest choosing last in the first round. Then the youngest goes first, followed by the next oldest and so on.
  • Conducting auctions where everyone gets an equal amount of play money and can bid on the items he or she wants most.
  • Selling everything, then dividing the proceeds.
  • Conducting auctions with family members using their own money to buy what they want, then everyone splits the proceeds equally.

Before you choose a method, though, think hard about how well it's likely to work with your family. Hall believes each method can cause problems and lingering resentments, but she prefers the last option when parents haven't been clear about their wishes, because it's the method least likely to cause later recriminations.

4. The in-laws and grandkids need to stay out of it.

This process is hard enough without spouses of siblings sticking their oars in. Maybe you felt exceptionally close to your mother-in-law or father-in-law and feel obligated to let everyone know what they would have wanted. Please, resist the urge to share. The best thing you can do for your spouse and your family is to support the family pact of peace. On every other topic, keep your mouth shut.

Dragging in the wants or needs of the grandkids is also likely to muddy the water. Otherwise reasonable people can go nuts when they think they're defending, or providing for, their kids.

If you're tempted to get all misty-eyed about passing things down to your children, understand that they probably aren't nearly as sentimental as you are. If there's an item you're willing to fight your siblings over, picture it on a yard sale table with a $5 tag attached -- because that may well be where it winds up eventually.

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"The younger generation wants the cash," Hall said. "All the things that meant so much to you are going to be hastily taken care of when you're gone."

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.