“I Never Saw it Coming!”

A client of mine knew he faced a hellacious task ahead of him — cleaning out the parental home of lifelong collectors.  Some people call it collecting; others like myself call it pseudo-hoarding.  After an initial consultation, and explaining the process of disassembling the estate, he was completely on-board with emptying the house.  I promised I could undo 40 years of heavy “collecting” in 56 hours.

He assured me the family had already chosen the items they wanted to keep, and we even gave his sibling a few extra days to go through it.  My instructions were clear; please make your selections and remove the items because once I am in the home, it would be best to remain away until our work is done.  The client was very understanding of this and we scheduled the work.

On a personal level, I know it can be emotionally draining to go through this process of sorting through and selecting items from mom and dad’s home, who are now deceased.  I have always believed this is part of the grieving process.  But there is a fine line where it can quickly turn to hoarding, and it becomes clear a child can’t let go for numerous reasons.  I have long preached that memories are not found in things, but in the precious relationships we build along the way.  Sadly, most people do not get this concept.

Long story short, one sibling could not stay away from the home, and could not stop filling their vehicle each day.  Things were missing that were slated for auction; so much that we had to all but cancel the auctioneer!  My client was most baffled by his sibling’s actions.  “I don’t understand why they are doing this!  I have been very clear with them to stay away, and they assured me they didn’t want much.  I don’t get it.  I NEVER saw this coming!  Why are they doing this?”

The explanation was simple:  She could not properly digest that mom and dad were gone, and as a close second to having them there (which is no longer possible), she took their possessions.  I also see many children who never made amends or rectified any pending issues prior to a parent passing away.  This leaves a tremendous weight on their shoulders that they don’t know how to deal with.  The problem now became that this sibling took so much, there was no room in their own home to enjoy.  Don’t look now, but they just continued the pattern of being a heavy collector, I mean … hoarder.

It is easy for me to critique what I see because I am on the outside looking in.  I know the sibling who took so much will be miserable with all this stuff.  They won’t be able to move around their own house, which forces them to make decisions to let go of some items when they are not thinking clearly, probably causing marital strife also.

Bottom line: Just when you think you can predict a family member’s actions, you can’t!  We all handle infirmity, death, and grief differently.  In this case, there was one sibling who was in serious emotional turmoil and could benefit from grief counseling — and I mean that most sincerely, as it helped me greatly.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

A Slice of Birthday Cake with Roses on Top

Remember when we were little kids and our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, when we saw the thick, sugary icing and special colored roses on our birthday cake?  Everyone fought over those colorful, sugary roses that contained enough fuel to shoot us to the moon and back, or at least until midnight when the sugar buzz finally wore off.  We were probably 5 or 6 years old, but already we had learned a lesson that would follow us throughout our lives.

The voice in our heads beckoned us to eat as much as possible including all of those coveted roses — after all, it’s my cake, my birthday.  Why shouldn’t I have it all to myself?  Mother’s quiet, yet serious tone forced me to share, and share equally among the other children at the party.  “You have to be fair to everyone,” she would say.  It isn’t fair, I thought to myself.  That’s my cake!  I should have all of the slices of cake with the roses on them.  (The roses were, and still are, my favorite.)

So it is with much of life.  We all want the “roses” in life and that includes our loved one’s estates.  You’ve had your eye on that grandfather clock, or mom’s diamond ring, or dad’s fishing lure collection for years.  And you believe you are entitled to them, or perhaps they were promised to you long ago, so you just assume they will be yours one day.  Then that “one day” comes, and your sibling claims the same thing … the trouble begins.

Until they are gifted to you in person prior to infirmity or death, or until there is a written plan for those heirlooms upon a loved one’s passing, you are entitled to nothing unless it is given to you.  Even if you don’t end up with your beloved “rose,” we must remember that while we would like to have the majority of the cake, it is good and appropriate to share equally.

You taught me well, Mom!

© 2011 Julie Hall

How to Prevent Conflict Between Adult Children

A colleague in Canada invited me to create several podcasts for her website at Moving Forward Matters, Ottawa Home Transition Specialists.  

The first one is titled, “How to Prevent Conflict Between Adult Children Before A Loved One Dies.”  Here’s the link to the podcast:  http://www.movingforwardmatters.com/2011/03/22/estate-planning-how-to-prevent-conflict-between-adult-children-before-a-loved-one-dies/

My greatest goal is to educate people and prepare them for the inevitable challenges of family members dealing with personal property accumulated over a lifetime.  There are ways for parents (not just elderly parents) to prepare their children to deal with these possessions equitably, thereby avoiding years of hard feelings, sibling battles, court fights, and other ugly situations.

I hope you’ll listen to this podcast and then pass along a link to another family member or friend who may benefit from this advice.  Remember, it’s not too early to simplify your possessions and create equitable plans for your children and grandchildren to follow.

© 2011 Julie Hall

She was Having a Bad Heir Day

Joann and her brother were co-executors of their mother’s estate.  One day, she decided she didn’t like how her brother was acting regarding the division of mom’s property.  So she did what many heirs have done … however unthinkable it was … she asserted control over the issue in a not-so-nice manner.

I think you will agree she went about it all wrong!  After I completed a consultation with her, she immediately called a locksmith and had all the locks changed so no one could get in the house but her.  “My brother is not going to get the things he wants.  He has ticked me off one time too many.  I’ll show him … I’m going to get them before he does,” were her exact words.  I hope my jaw didn’t drop too much.

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, she proceeds to move all the heirlooms out of mom’s house without notifying her brother of anything, and has them delivered to her storage unit.

This is the perfect example of how NOT to handle an estate unless you want to drain your finances for legal fees.  Despite my repeated attempts to talk with her and offer her some sound advice, it fell on deaf ears.  To me, it is complete disrespect for the loved one who has died, but this happens more frequently than even I care to admit.  Scary, but very true.

© 2011 Julie Hall

Sneak Peek: Two heirs want the same heirloom

Here’s the sneak peek from my new book, How to Divide Your Family’s Estate and Heirlooms Peacefully and Sensibly, available at the right side bar of this blog.

Problem: Two of my siblings are fighting over the same heirloom.  How do you split that?

Solution: When two or more are arguing over the same item(s), you have a few options, but ultimately it is up to the level of stubbornness of the people involved.

  • One heir simply turns the other cheek and forfeits to the other.  Rememeber that all of the values need to be kept equitable.  If Sue gets a $5,000 item and Barbara gets a $200 item, that is not equitable and other arrangements must be made, whether in cash assets or other items, to make up for the $4,800 deficit.
  • One sibling can offer to buy the item from the others and take it out of their inheritance.
  • They can write up an agreement and share the item, if it is small enough to share.  Then again, this decision only postpones that inevitable decision for later in life.  When the siblings die, now their children have to contend with the same issue.
  • If no one can agree and the arguing continues in a “no one is going to give in” pattern, I recommend the executor sell the item through an appropriate auction and split the proceeds by the number of siblings.  Yes, the siblings will be upset, but that is more acceptable than resenting each other the remainder of their lives.
  • What would mom or dad want?  Would they permit this kind of treatment towards one another?  In most cases, the answer is no.  They would be disappointed, having trusted you to make decisions that they probably should have made while they were alive, but for whatever reason, they didn’t.  You can’t go back; you can only go forward.  So go forward, knowing what your parents would have wanted and go forth doing what they would have wanted.

© 2011 Julie Hall

Three More Important Tips for Personal Property

We’re continuing our discussion of important tips for dealing with personal property in an estate.  Here are the final three tips:

3.  Just because it is old doesn’t mean it is valuable.  This is my personal mantra.  Each day, I must face clients and report the truth based on facts.  Depression glass may have been the rage 12 years ago, but today the market is pretty flat, much like the beloved Hummel figurines of mother’s day.  It’s important to understand the distinction between monetary and sentimental value.  If great-grandfather made it in 1865, it is certainly old and very special to us.  This, however, does not indicate or equate to significant monetary value.  It does hold value in the heart, though.

4.  PLEASE hire a professional before you have a yard sale on your own.  In my career, I have seen things thrown in the trash, dumpsters, yard sales, etc. that children put there or sold for next to nothing.  In actuality, they were worth a small fortune!  Knowledge really is power.   Parents, consider getting your heirlooms evaluated prior to your passing, so you can leave this information for your heirs.  Children, ask questions about the history of these heirlooms while mom and dad can still tell you.  Discuss together the possibility of gifting prior to death.  At the very least, mom and dad should document who gets what.

5.  When using professionals in the industry, check them out first.  Make sure they have no unresolved complaints against them with the Better Business Bureau.  Ask them for professional references, and ask how long they have been doing this work.  Ask your friends, neighbors, and other professionals if they can recommend estate professional appraisers and liquidators.  Be very leary of those who “dabble” in estate sales or yard sales; you need a pro.  If you think hiring a professional is expensive, you should try hiring an amateur.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Important Tips When Dealing with Personal Property from an Estate

When a loved one becomes infirm or passes away, the handling of the estate and contents lands on the lap of the heir(s).  If the heir is prepared, it will go much easier than if they operate in a crisis mode.  All too often, I see children who don’t know anything about the estate and contents.  It’s like they are literally walking into a dark house and starting from scratch with no guidance.

Here are some important tips to consider if you are currently dealing with an estate, or soon to be handling one.

1.  Don’t do ANYTHING until you know what it is and what it’s worth.  Do not give items to neighbors, friends, family, or charity until everything has been looked at by a professional appraiser, or you have been advised what the best method(s) is/are to proceed with dissolution of the estate.  It is well worth the cost to get this information.  It will even assist with equitable distribution, thereby keeping things as neutral as possible between the siblings.

2.  What is it worth?  What someone is willing to pay you for it.  It is not worth the dollar amount you see on the internet – that is only an asking price and usually quite inflated at that.  It is not worth what grandma told you back in the 70’s, and the stories that were told by previous generations can be a bit stretched through the years.   As with anything else in life, the value is contingent upon many factors, one of which is supply and demand. 

Since so many china sets have saturated the market, and will continue to do so, what do you think will happen to the price?  If the younger women want Pottery Barn and IKEA, and not grandma’s china, what will happen to these sets?  The prices will continue to plummet.  Always check with a professional appraiser first.

That’s enough to digest this week, but I have three more important tips for you next week!

© 2010 Julie Hall

Estate Etiquette Solutions

As promised last week, here’s how you can contribute to a more peaceful resolution when dividing heirlooms in your parents’ estate.

  1. Sit down and say what’s on your mind.  Beating around the bush confuses everyone.  Confrontation is not necessarily a bad thing.  My father always said that the day after a thunderstorm is usually clean, bright, and beautiful.  It clears the air and so does a confrontation that is more about sharing than finger pointing.  Some heirs can’t handle this confrontation, and I would definitely recommend some kind of mediation, if they want to save the relationship.  The down side is that if they don’t fix this early on, the relationship is normally irreparable as the damage is done.  Then, both parties live out their lives with anger in their hearts.
  2. It’s vital to do everything you can to keep the peace.  Regardless of what part you play in this, it will have an impact on you too, most especially a negative impact.  Even indirectly connected, it will touch you in some negative way.  To avoid this, do your best to take the “high road.”  It feels good to do so, though it’s not always easy.
  3. Validate the other person’s feelings if they share them with you.  At least, listen.  Repeat what they said to you so they feel you heard them.  Both should agree to simply do the best you can to smooth it over somehow.  A photo of Mom and Dad sitting in front of you wouldn’t hurt.  After all, this is about honoring them and not about the heirs.
  4. Encourage others to be a part of the healing process, if they would like to be.  It is not about taking sides.  It is about encouraging both parties to do what they can to heal the hurt.  Always remain objective and try very hard to see the other side.  Seeing both sides, or at least putting yourself in the other’s shoes, might very well lend some insight into the situation.  The problem is that we are generally too self-centered to do this.  Promise me you’ll try!

Dividing heirlooms can be one of the most contentious experiences of our adult lives.  There is no way to completely eliminate family squabbles.  But, you can learn to put them out when they are smoldering, instead of when they grow into a full-blown forest fire.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Estate Etiquette

It’s an observation worth noting: when it comes to dividing heirlooms and estate contents, everyone tenses up and no one wants to be the first to talk.  You can sense the apprehension in the room, and it appears as if everyone is trying to predict what the other will do.  Will my sister make a fuss?  Will my brother want the same things I want, and if so, what do we do?  Will there be fighting and resentment?

From the perspective of this 20 year veteran who has observed many families, we should be more concerned with our own behavior.  If every heir was in tune with their own behavior and had the ability to stay on the peaceful path, there would be a lot less fighting in the world.

When a parent passes, particularly the last remaining parent, true colors, a few fangs, and an entitlement mentality will eventually surface.  Most feuds break out for four basic reasons:

  • A misunderstanding has taken place and has not been effectively dealt with
  • Everyone grieves differently and emotions can be volatile
  • A situation has been festering for years that probably took place during childhood and will now appear, causing all kinds of problems
  • An heir perceives he or she is being cheated in the distribution of heirlooms

How do you contribute to a more peaceful resolution?  Check back here next week for four valuable suggestions.

My Sibling is the Problem

This week, I’m answering another great question from a reader.

Q:  I am the executor of my mother’s estate.  There are 4 children and one of them is being problematic, even accusing me of things I haven’t done and have no intention of doing.  Is there something I can do to help this situation, because she is not speaking with me and causing everyone great distress?  She wants everything in Mom’s house that is valuable and is not willing to share.  Mom specified everything be split 4 ways equally.  Any help would be appreciated!

A:  In my profession, I see this more often than I would like to admit.  Sometimes the glue of the family begins to disintegrate once both parents pass away.  If one sibling is being difficult, he or she is really calling out for some type of assistance, and it requires great patience and grace to get to the root of the problem.  In some cases, the difficulty can lie in a form of guilt or resentment that this sibling is feeling.  Perhaps they never got the chance to make something right with the loved one before their passing, or felt cheated during their life by the one who just died.  Envy can also play an important role in the behavior of siblings during this difficult time.

Here’s what to do to help this situation.  Write each sibling a letter as the executor.  Share with them the feelings and fears you have about this situation.  Be honest and direct and encourage a family meeting.  Offer each sibling the opportunity to speak, one at a time.  Ask the problematic sibling to tell you what they desire and why.   What would make them feel better?  Really listen to each other.

Have an appraiser evaluate the contents of the home before anything is removed.   Keep a spreadsheet for each sibling and what they would like to have.  Make certain each takes approximately the same financial amount, based on the appraisal.  If one has considerably less assets, make up for it with cash assets, if all siblings agree.  Select items in mom’s house in order of birth and then reverse the order to make it fair, or draw names out of a hat.

Being an executor is probably the most difficult task you might ever experience.  It will test the core of your being!  Lead with your heart, keep compassion on the forefront of your mind to remain fair and objective, and most of all, honor your mother’s memory by being respectful of her and her lifelong possessions.  This is about your mother’s wishes, not your sibling’s!

© 2010 Julie Hall