Know When to Hold ’em BEFORE You’ve Sold ’em

It is not unusual to meet with families sorting through an estate on their own and making serious mistakes.  Through no fault of their own, they are following their logic.  Since they don’t have the benefit of knowing the correct process and sequence of things, knowing the industry, collectibles, antiques, and the overall market, they soon find themselves “guessing” and that is a very bad thing to do.

Families, executors, and attorneys hire estate professionals so we can guide the family in knowing what has value, what doesn’t, what is sellable, what is not, options for selling, resources for selling, what to throw away, and what to keep.  This is what we Estate Consultants do to maximize proceeds and offer peace of mind to our clients, knowing they are making the right decisions.

Let me tell you a story about what just happened.

I love sterling silver rings.  Besides wearing them, they are a good investment as a precious metal.  I had been watching a large lot of rings on eBay and won it at a very fair price.  When the rings arrived, I looked at them and found a huge surprise.  One ring stood out; I knew instantly it was Imperial jade, and one of the largest pieces of Imperial jade I had ever seen.  Even a small slab of this jade is very expensive and sought after.  The setting was platinum and not sterling.  It was, at the very least, a $1,500 ring thrown in with $5 sterling rings.

Someone did not do their homework or did not take the time to do enough homework.

I attempted to contact the seller on eBay, but they never replied.

Moral to the story:

Haste makes waste.  It is worth hiring an expert to avoid hasty, and costly, mistakes.  No one can possibly know everything.  Bringing in professional help is an inexpensive insurance policy that you are making the right decisions for the distribution and dissolution of a loved one’s personal property.

©2014 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at

Things We Find Left Behind

Treasure is in the eye of the beholder.  What one person holds dear, another wants nothing to do with.  This is true between elderly parents and their middle-aged children, and even grandchildren.  The Depression Era generation doesn’t let go of much.  They take great pride in their possessions, especially the ladies with their ornate silver plate pieces, painted china, and etched crystal that they cherished in another time and place.

We find a ton of handwritten notes intended for those left behind.  We find them tucked inside vases, taped to the back of china or paintings, taped under sculptures and figurines.  We find loose notes in desk drawers.  Sometimes, we even find the notes laying right where the author left them before being struck with infirmity or death.

These notes are meant to guide the loved ones after their death and they often include a myriad of information: the history behind the item, the name of the person they are leaving it to, and my personal favorite … what they think it is worth.  Many of these notes have yellowed with age and some are barely decipherable.  To complicate the matter, this particular generation has a tendency to change their minds frequently, often creating multiple notes with mixed messages (probably depending on who ticked them off most recently – according to the children who read the notes).  It is also possible they may forget and start all over.

Here is an example of one I just found:

Dated 1977

“In my antique chest, with the items I intend to give to Susan and Ralph.  Top shelf – “Boy and two goats” Royal Copenhagen figurine and female Hummel. – $2,000 value

Second shelf – Royal Doulton Toby mugs and Hummel plates – $1,800 value

Third shelf – Carlsbad, Austria dish and crystal duck and cat – $300 value

To Robert and Sylvia – In the hutch – the smaller Hummel figurines, Venetian glass fish, crystal candle holder and small Royal Doulton figurine. – $1,500 value”

The list is quite extensive and goes on for a long time.  Here’s what we need to know from this story:

  1. These items were never distributed.
  2. They were never distributed because no one wanted them.
  3. They ended up in my hands to sell for the family and they will split the proceeds.

Do notes help?  I think sometimes they do, especially when they offer personal history and IF you want to keep these items.  Notes can also be removed or taken by unscrupulous heirs-to-be, and often we find more than one version of their notes, which claim different people can have the same item.

How do you handle that one?  You write a formal addendum or document to place with your Will or Trust, and make sure there is only one copy, not multiples.  Ask your attorney how to do this.  Better yet, consider giving it away or selling these items, if the children don’t want them, before any of this takes place.

From my experience, many times the intentions of these notes are never carried out.

You can have the best intentions but if they are not carried through, it’s a moot point.

If you want someone to have somethings special of yours, give it to them while you are still able to do so.

Somewhere along the line, we have to break the habit of waiting until someone is “gone” to deal with all of this.  Granted some people prefer it that way, but more and more, we are seeing a trend of people giving away or selling their items before they pass, to make it easier on their loved ones left behind.

Personally, I think the best notes we can leave behind are thoughts of joy and love, and not necessarily who gets what and how much items are worth.  My favorite “possession” from my late mother is a letter she sent me stating how proud she is of me and how I have chosen to serve people, and may God bless me abundantly for doing so.  It is a deeply personal note and one that I will always cherish.  I would gladly let go of the material stuff I inherited from her, for this one note and memories of happy times.  That’s the REAL inheritance!

©2014 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at

Things That Have No Place Anymore

In every home, in every estate of a deceased loved one, there are items we have to deal with that don’t seem to have a place with us anymore.  Perhaps they are no longer useful, or the sentiment has worn off.  Maybe there are so many items, there’s no way you can take them all!

After the family comes in and takes what they want, and some of the items have been sold or given away, there are always leftovers that can’t find a home.  Old photos and slides no one wants.  Brittle college diplomas and certificates from the early twentieth century.  Ancient textbooks on everything from WWI nursing to social etiquette to typewriter maintenance.  Old tax returns that need to be shredded and magazines and catalogs that weigh a ton.  Old TV parts, metal bits and pieces, broken appliances that are stuck up in the attic.  Prescription meds, record albums, small appliances, old computer printers and fax machines.

Optimally, these items should have been dealt with a long time ago so it doesn’t put the family in a crisis mode when the time comes.  Old appliances and computers can be recycled, as can the endless paper piles we find.  Metal can be scrapped; $100 is better than hauling it to the trash, right?  Prescription medications need to be dissolved in vinegar before flushed to neutralize the meds, or better yet, dissolve them and place them in a container with old coffee grounds or kitty litter.

These items should be disposed of properly, but it makes us feel guilty when we are throwing away things like old photos or slides.  After all, who has time to go through 10,000 slides from the 1950’s?

Let me share a quick story.  I used to be one who didn’t have time to go through all the family slides … until mom died.  I brought the slides home and at night while watching TV, I used a little light-up viewer I bought on Ebay to see which ones we wanted to keep.  I found a gold mine!  Photos of dad on his ship in the Navy, mom and dad’s engagement in 1953, early baby photos of me and my brother never seen before, photos of all the kids and cousins from long ago.  I had these selected slides made into prints and distributed them to family members.  The thank you letters, emails, and phone calls came pouring in.  It was like they each won a small lottery and were most appreciative to have these never-before-seen photos.  In my case, it was worth the effort.

If family does not claim these items, or there is no family left, sadly, these items either need to be discarded, donated, shredded.  And it’s okay to do that — you have permission to do that.  If no one else wants them or needs them, let them go with respect.

©2014 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at

Show Me the Money

Yesterday I went to a local, but well-known, antique show held once a month.  I was there at 9:00 am to get in the door early enough to try and seek out treasures, but the strange thing was that no one was waiting in line.  At first, I thought maybe I had the date wrong.  I could not figure out why the attendance was so low.

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Granted, it was still early, and as the day went on, more people came but I didn’t see anyone buying much.

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I was lucky enough to find a motivated, successful dealer.  I use the word “successful” because he gets it … you must negotiate to sell items, unless you have very rare pieces that will command top dollar.  That is much harder to find than people realize.  I must have spent a couple of hours with this one dealer who let me “pick” through his tubs of scrap silver, jewelry, etc., and he gave me very fair prices, so I will be a repeat customer.

Picture this:  Dealers who have been there year after year with the same items, refusing to come down in price, even though the heyday for these items has come and gone.  The heyday may come back again one day, but not anytime soon.  Sadly, these dealers are so set in their ways; they will probably perish before they come down in price.  They have the mentality that they must double or triple (or more) their money and they won’t settle for anything less.  They are the dealers sitting in their booths, reading a book or newspaper, and not engaging in any human contact.  I almost took a photo of one dealer fast asleep!

When these dealers pass away, their kids will sell these items by sending them to an auction or through a liquidator.  They are holding out for a certain amount or perceived value that will not come to fruition.  Can you imagine traveling, packing, and unpacking these items for years and not selling all that much?  To each his own, but that seems like a waste of time to me.  I would be more motivated to move product.

Compare these dealers to the first dealer who cut me great deals and was willing to negotiate … Who do you think will find favor with more buyers?  Who will get more business because they negotiate, and are pleasant and easy to work with?

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Still, there are other dealers that are catching on and placing signs on their tables: “$1.00 Table,” “$5.00 Table,” “Nothing over $30.00 but ask for best price” tables, I even saw “FREE STUFF” boxes and they were still full!  These dealers are beginning to see the light.  It’s as if I wanted to jump on top of the table to shout, “ATTENTION EVERYONE!  We are battling weary economic times!  Come on now … this stuff is not going to bring in what it did in 2005!”

If you want buyers to show you the money, you have to meet them halfway.  It has, without question, become a buyers market.  For those with extra cash to spend, you can rack up some great deals, even investment quality pieces.

ESTATE LADY TIP:  Silver and gold are beginning to inch up again.  Buy what you can afford now.  It could go up rapidly depending on current global situations.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

The Estate Medium

Give me a little while in an estate – any estate – and I will tell you more about that loved one’s life than most people who knew them.  Walking into an estate, sight unseen for the first time, can be compared to an artist starting on a new canvas.  We wipe the mental slate clean from the last estate and clear ourselves before going in to “receive” thoughts, feelings, and even a certain energy about the home and the people who lived there.  One can sense many things immediately, if they are open to it.

In my career, I have handled the estates of young and old alike: the mentally ill, the lost souls, those who end their own lives, the hoarders, the estranged, those with dementia, eating disorders, chronic disease, those who died rich, and those who died poor.  While these are all very different, I have come to the conclusion that in the end, we are all pretty much the same regardless of the situation that led to the eventual demise.

I went into an estate last week where someone ended their life.  This is not common, but I see it a few times each year.  The feeling is always the same once I have entered the home.  I walk in and instantly feel a wall of despair.  It is a profound sense of sadness.  As I walk through the home, I will see other signs that something wasn’t quite right; either the home is too clean (as in OCD clean) or I see hoarding tendencies.  Often scattered around in the strangest places, I will see liquor bottles coupled with a multitude of prescription bottles; you know what a dangerous combination this is.  I look at what their hobbies and interests were, which will reveal much about them.  And sometimes I can see conflict in their lives just by observing what was in their home.  Was it mental illness, untreated depression, drugs, etc?  We’ll never know.  It is not unusual to sense that at one time, they were a very bright light.

If we are in the home for any length of time, would you believe me if I told you that my staff and I begin to cry, or that we are filled with sorrow we don’t understand?  It’s as if we can feel what they felt.  We can feel that they were “stuck” in a dark place even though they had much to offer.  A very sad situation indeed.  We always end up praying for that person (for everyone, really), lifting lovely thoughts and words hoping that they have found peace at last, and that we are there to help the family begin to heal by handling the estate for them.

On the flip side, we can also sense lives and homes that are buoyant, colorful, joyful, and productive.  These homes are filled with light, usually lovers of animals and nature, and hobbies such as volunteering, bird watching, and gardening.  In these homes, we usually just feel a stillness that has no heaviness to it.  And in some cases, we start singing and are lighthearted while working in the estate.  We don’t always understand why the environment affects us and our feelings.

Two completely different experiences, and everything you can imagine in between.

I believe there’s a way we can incorporate a conscious change into our lives and homes, so we can positively shift the energy we carry with us, for it remains long after we are gone, and deeply affects our loved ones left behind.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

“Limited Edition” Often Seems UN-limited

The world is full of numbered prints.  People bought them at high prices a decade, or two or three, ago, because they were led to believe the prints would go up in value over time since they are “limited editions.”  What happened, as you will soon see, is the artists or their marketing directors got greedy.  In theory, it all sounds so great, so what happened?  Read on …

If I had just $1 for every numbered print I have seen in my career, I could probably retire tomorrow.  A well-known artist decides to mass produce their work and make more money by using prints (or strikes) of one original work.  More money, less work.  All they have to do is pencil sign and number each print.  Typically, you see what looks like a fraction in pencil, for example 12/500, found in one of the bottom corners of the print.  This means the print you have is the 12th strike out of an edition of 500.  It is believed that the lower the number, the sharper the strike, so it is more desirable to collectors.  If you had 452/500, it is thought that the strike is getting worn and the image will not be as good.


But there are only 500 of them.  Aren’t they worth something?  Of course.  They are worth what someone is willing to give you for them.  Print media has certainly experienced a serious downturn in value over the last several years.  Artists shot themselves in the foot by producing too many of them.  Let’s not forget that the same image also has matching non-numbered prints, stationery, place-mats, mouse pads, cocktail napkins, key chains, plaques, etc.  You get the point … it always comes down to the law of supply and demand.  They mass produce until they meet the demand.  Then the demand bottoms out and the marketplace is still saturated with these items.  Then the price heads south just like so many other collectibles: Beanie Babies, collector plates, Hummels, etc.

This is the trend we’ve been seeing for years and will probably continue to see.  The economy, the older generation passing away, the younger kids not wanting them, collectors dying and their collections saturating the market further … all of this comes together and lowers values of these pieces.  They just aren’t selling well on the secondary market.

There are several famous artists out there whose numbered prints once sold for tens of thousands of dollars.  When we search for them on the internet, one can plainly see that some misinformed seller actually still thinks they can get $10K for it.  I know the latest hammer price is $250, if that.  Could a print still sell for a lot of money?  Yes, if a collector is searching for that one piece; but that collector is savvy and knows what the current prices are and will not pay wildly for it, as they once did.

It’s no one’s fault.  It made sense to invest in these things at the time and it sounded like a sure thing.  But as with all things that sound too good to be true … it usually is.

The Estate Lady Tip of the Day: Always buy what you like and what brings you pleasure.  You might be stuck with it for a while.  Before I buy something, I ask myself if I’m absolutely crazy about the piece.  If not, I walk away.  My daughter won’t want it someday, because she doesn’t want it now, and most children do not change their minds with the passage of time.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

An Estate Find Tells the Tale of a Bittersweet Love

The colors of the WWI era postcard were the first to catch my attention.  Postmarked 1918, the picture depicts a soldier in uniform holding the hand of a girl he was leaving behind as he heads off to war.  When I flipped the postcard over to read it, their lives suddenly sprung to life.

Her name was Viola and she lived in Virginia.  The only writing on the addressee side is her first name, last name, and the city and state she lived in.  Your first thought, when looking at the simplicity of the card, was how complicated life is now in the 21st century, compared to a time when postmen knew you and where you lived.  But after reading the postcard, perhaps their lives weren’t that simple after all.  It leaves a lot to the imagination.

His name was Thomas and he was writing from Camp Meade.  Apparently, Thomas was quite taken with Viola.

Dearest Viola,  I guess you are somewhat surprised to hear from me.  And although I am taking it upon myself to drop you a card, I hope that one day very soon I can hold your beautiful face in my hands.  What a sweet and wonderful day it will be to see you again!  I thought today that I had to leave for France, But I am still here for a couple of weeks before we go so please answer me.  Yours, Thomas

What Thomas was really trying to do was get up the nerve to tell her how he really felt and that he wanted her in his life.

I wonder whatever happened to Thomas and Viola.  During this time in 1918, WWI was drawing to a close but the men were still actively fighting.  Did Thomas ever go to France, and if so, did he ever return safely to hold Viola’s face?  Did he die valiantly while fighting for his country?  It’s one of the myriad of mysteries we find in estates, and while it is hard to walk away without a firm answer, we simply fill in the blanks the way we would have wanted the story to end.

Thomas came back; Viola fell head over heels in love with him.  They had several children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; they lived to a ripe old age, completely devoted to one another.

In my mind, that’s the ending to this affair of the heart.

© 2012 Julie Hall