Families have a way of acquiring great numbers of treasured objects and mementos: photo albums, antique books, Wedgewood China… a mounted deer head? You just never know what’s going to end up in the trash-heap and what will be kept and passed on to the next generation. Ellen Lupton mentions in her recent article in the New York Times that she and her husband kept the Wedgewood China and (surprisingly enough) the deer head. But the question she puts forth is… why?

Lupton’s article, entitled How to Lose a Legacy, makes the point that the difference between old stuff as trash and old stuff as treasure lies largely with you and how you choose to leave all this stuff to your heirs. “You can’t buy an heirloom at Pottery Barn or IKEA. It comes via gift, bequest or a heated sibling brawl.”

Lupton says early on in her article that “Even folks in the ‘die broke’ crowd, determined to enjoy their remaining assets rather than leave them to the ungrateful grandkids, may secretly hope the family will love and honor their dearest possessions.” But secret hopes aren’t of any use to your children or grandchildren after you’ve passed away. Part of the job of an estate planner is to help you express these secret hopes to your heirs and leave your treasured possessions in safe and appreciative hands.

Of course your heirs are going to have minds (and memories) of their own, and your treasured silver cake platter could still end up in the local antique store; but the best way to keep your treasures in the family is to make sure your family knows your wishes. If they know how much your grandmother’s English tea set meant to you (and why it meant so much to you) it’s going to mean that much more to them.

You may share a life and history with your heirs, but you can’t expect them to read your mind. If you can put your stuff into context—let each heirloom tell a part of your story and reflect a meaningful relationship—the legacy you leave will be priceless.