“You Have What I Want!”
“Can I Please Have My Stuff Back?”
Now, let's tackle this pesky problem... You may have loaned someone a document or heirloom in a moment of wonton abandonment (which translates to your mother yelling, “Are you out of your mind!?”); or you may have claim to a family heirloom that has fallen into the wrong hands (read: an executor or executrix who wasn't faithful to Aunt Bessie's will and refuses to give up what should rightfully be yours).
Let's talk about the loanee first.
The short and sweet answer is this. When you show up at the loanee's house, just ask for it back. Chances are that whatever they have is at their house and not in some storage locker or warehouse somewhere. It should be in their possession. Just ask for it back courteously and kindly. “Hmm, Oh, by the way, do you have grandmother's marriage certificate that I let you take home to copy?” If they beg off saying they haven't had time to copy it, ask for it anyway and promise them that you will copy it for them and send it to them immediately – THEN DO IT, keep your promise! If they say they don't have it, find out who does and go there to retrieve it - that day if possible. You have to be direct and not wishy-washy about it. Then leave with a sincere smile and in friendship.
On to the dreaded ABSCONDER!
People like this are hard to crack. If this was the result of a will gone bad,you may very well wind up talking to the attorney that handled the Will to see if they can intervene... or maybe a compromise would be in order...
Offer another item in it's place – Maybe you have an item whose line of descent should have been through a cousin or other relative and it somehow came into your possession. Can you barter this item for the item that is rightfully yours?
Ask if they could will it to you or your children – This may be a long shot at best, but it's worth a try. It may be a more successful tool if the person who has the artifact has no children – that way, they may be more agreeable to this suggestion. Try to get it in writing and stay in contact and good stead with the person. You may be surprised – after all, it's true that there are no hearses with luggage racks!
A personal aside based on my experience in the extreme – This is an extreme example, but certainly not unheard of – especially if you have relatives who live several states apart. To try and make a long story short...
My maternal grandmother was a very generous person and when her sister and her sisters husband – who was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois at the end of the Second World War – could not find housing for their family (there was a housing shortage and a lot of times, relatives doubled up until something became available), my grandmother offered to cram the family into their tiny apartment. In exchange for my grandparents' hospitality, my great aunt and uncle would buy groceries and sundries as they could afford them. Then, my great uncle was assigned to a project tied to the the SS Eastland (the Eastland Disaster), which was raised from the Chicago River a month following the disaster in August 1915 and the Navy took possession of the vessel for training purposes. Somehow, my great uncle procured from the naval base one of a set of glass fronted bookcases that had been on board the Eastland and offered it to my grandparents as payment for housing. Keep in mind that this was in the late 40's – since then, it's been a bone of contention. My great aunt and uncle eventually settled near the naval base in San Diego and sent for their bookcase. My grandparents reminded them that it was payment for their family of four to reside with them and would not give up this beautiful piece of Americana. Time and again, they would visit Chicago and hint that they wanted their property back – but would leave without it.
Fast forward to 1978 - My grandmother had died in 1978, after moving – where else? – to San Diego. At the time of her death, her baby brother was living with her and also my grandfather. My Aunt tried to get the bookcase – her brother and my grandfather said, “No dice”.
Fast forward to 1984... my grandmothers baby brother died while he was still living in the house with my grandfather; and before my mother could get from Chicago to San Diego to get her father and my grandparents' possessions... Well, you know what happened, don't you? My great Uncle's ex-wives (yes, that was plural) and children descended – along with my great aunt and uncle - and stripped some of the house. All of the family pictures, heirlooms – and, of course, the bookcase. To this day, no one will take responsibility for this mystery... my aunt died in 2004 (at like 100 years old) and the truth went with her. Of course, to my knowledge, her 3 children are still living – but are mum on the subject and have pretty much cut themselves off from the family. Sigh... over a bookcase...
So you see, sometimes no one wins; and when squabbling over things makes everyone a loser, sometimes you just have to walk away. As for me, I want to call my cousin in San Diego and say, “Don't make me come over there!”
As always, I'd love to hear from you if you have a solution to these problems that's worked for you!