Scoundrels and Schemers

Louise was a wealthy woman in her advanced stages of a terminal illness, was blind, completely deaf, and in her final stage of dementia.  She could no longer communicate and decisions were being made for her by an old friend she trusted.  Louise had never married and had no children, but did have four beneficiaries to her estate.  All four really loved her and provided the very best care for her in a beautiful health center for the remainder of her days.

One of Louise’s passions in life was purchasing fine diamonds; she had several pieces that were very large and easily worth in the six-figure range.  Everyday, she wore them because she loved them.  Louise bathed in them, napped in them, slept in them, and ate in them.

The beneficiaries started to grow concerned about these pieces of jewelry Louise wore on her person, for a number of reasons.

  • Most people don’t even have pieces as valuable as these, and if they did, the pieces would be kept in a safe, vault, or safe deposit box.
  • The beneficiaries did the right thing in requesting the rings be removed while Louise was napping, to have the genuine diamonds replaced with less expensive stones, in the event something should happen to the rings.
  • The genuine diamonds would then have been turned over to the trustee of the estate and secured.  Who could possibly blame them for wanting the diamonds protected?

Unfortunately, the decision-maker overseeing Louise’s assets insisted that Louise should continue to wear those massive stones against everyone’s advice.

One day, less than 2 weeks after this request to have each diamond removed and replaced with cubic zirconia, the massive diamond pieces Louise was wearing disappeared.  Not only did these pieces disappear, but a video camera, some CDs and a crock put vanished as well from Louise’s home.  This was a clear indication to the family that the caregiver, sitter, or someone else who had very close contact with her, had made off with the goods.  The beneficiaries were beside themselves.

Why didn’t anyone prevent this from happening?

Why didn’t anyone listen to their request?

With all the questions and accusations that flew, the damage was done.  The diamonds were gone, never to be found again, probably sold at a pawn shop for a few thousand dollars and currently sitting in someone’s safe as their own retirement investment.

It is simply up to us, the chosen decision-makers,

to make the correct decisions to care for and

protect our loved ones (and their assets)

who cannot make decisions for themselves.

This story clearly demonstrates that we must exercise extreme caution with valuables.  Remember to have them evaluated by a professional, have those values documented, and keep them in a safe place until they are either distributed to family or sold.  The faces of exploitation are often familiar faces and not necessarily a stranger.

©2015 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

The Expense of “Free”

Everyone is trying to pinch pennies.  But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t send up a warning to be extra careful if something is “free.”  A “free” something will almost always lead to strings attached or something expensive coming later, like a repair, further services of some sort, or worst … it could be a scam.  In the professional world, “free” is used to attract you and extract your personal information so they can use it to get money out of you for something else.  Here in the 21st century, your information can also be used against you in the cyber world.

A Positive Thumbs Up Sign

It is equally important to realize that paying for a valued service versus a free service does have its differences.  A free service (such as an estimate, consultation, product, etc.) will only provide you with a fraction of the information, leaving you hanging for more, but then you will have to pay for it, often in more ways than one.  A paid service will get the job done to completion the first time, if you choose the right professional.

Everyone is always attracted to “free” but should we be?

My late father had a saying, “If it’s free, take two.”  He was a Depression baby.  I am not.  This is the thought process of many people.  But no, I will not take “two” because I don’t want to clutter up my home with things my child won’t want one day, and I don’t want right now.  I won’t do that to my family.

What possible trouble could “free” cause?

Let’s take a closer look at the repercussions…

  • What if something goes wrong?
  • What if the service or information is inaccurate?  Where does the liability lie?
  • What if you get hurt, someone else gets hurt, or property (such as your home) gets damaged?
  • What if they don’t complete the job, or the job goes for months with no accountability?
  • What if you dislike the results or get really bad information?
  • What if you hired family, friends, or neighbors?  That relationship will never be the same.
  • And finally, what is your recourse if no money changed hands?

Many times, people have ulterior motives for offering something for free.  Not always, but a good bit of the time, it’s true, even in my own industry (as well as every other industry).

“Free” is never free.  It just sounds good.  Free can mean hasty mistakes, and free can mean costly mistakes.  Sometimes free can be very expensive.

©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

“Dear Dad”

Part 1

There comes a time in everyone’s lives where you either face the demon or you don’t.  Not one to shy away from much, including a nasty demon who was helping himself to my father, something simply had to be done.

I knew long before anyone else in the family that dad was exhibiting signs of dementia.  When I brought it up to my mom and sibling back in 2006, they thought I was nuts … only, I wasn’t.  It was the one time I wished I was wrong.  It wasn’t long before dad knew something was wrong too.  One day he confided in me that he was worried because his once sharp memory was “fading fast and he couldn’t remember things anymore.”

I encouraged dad to see his family doctor for testing, but he never did or he cancelled appointments.  Mom didn’t push the issue, despite my sweet badgering, because as I was to learn later on, she was afraid.  So afraid to uncover the truth that it seemed to paralyze her, and she was a strong woman.

The letter I will share with you is a very personal demonstration of love between my father and myself, and how I saw things as they were rudely unfolding and trying to blacken our world.  Not knowing what to do, or even how to begin doing it, I looked deep inside to find the right kind of solution because I felt damn helpless.  All my life I could solve any problem, help anyone, come up with solutions.  But I couldn’t beat this … not with all the tenacity in the world!

Of everything that I had heard about dementia, how could anything ever be right again?  It was that quiet inner voice that won my attention and I tried to reach my father through the love I had for him.  “Love conquers all,” they say, and if that is true, my words would touch my father’s soul.  That is exactly what I intended.  If I couldn’t help him fight and win, the least I could do was offer love and hold him up.

I just found this special letter in a box among my mother’s “keepsakes” from her estate; she kept it for a reason.  If you know anyone who can benefit from it, please pass it along, because it worked.  It reached both mom and dad and we all faced this demon together.  Being the front guy facing this enemy is the single, most frightening experience of my life.  There was no sword big enough, nor shield large enough to protect from its talons.  But there is always love …

Part 2 … coming next week

©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.

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

When a Change in Health Prompts a Change in Your Will

An estimated 50% of us have a will or trust!  This is not good news!

Most people have not yet comprehended (or accepted) that dying without a will is a very costly mistake that will negatively impact all you leave behind.  It’s not just about the hassles and frustrations your heirs will go through potentially for years, but the expenses involved.  Ultimately, the state you live in will make decisions regarding your estate that will not distribute it the way you would have chosen.  In a nutshell, get it done now and leave a legacy of respect, instead of resentment.

For those who do have a will, it is important to consider any changes in mental and physical health, as these could greatly impact the outcome of someone’s wishes.  For example, let’s say mom’s healthcare power of attorney states that dad makes all decisions for mom in the event she is incapacitated, vegetative state, etc.  Suddenly dad is exhibiting odd behavior and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which is progressing rapidly.  Can he now make sound decisions for mom?  Or, mom may not think about these details and this is the time for the children to talk with her about it.

So many Boomer children don’t know how to talk with their parents about these delicate issues, so permit me to offer some very sound advice.  It has to be done; it has to be discussed, as painful as it is.  If left “under the carpet,” no answers will be available to you should they become infirm or die.  Get the answers now, and do so with love and compassion.

Here’s one example: “Mom, we were thinking about yours and dad’s situation.  Now that dad is showing a decline in health, new decisions have to be made and documented so your wishes are fulfilled the way you would like them to be.  Dad is no longer capable of understanding complex issues, and you will need to choose a new healthcare power of attorney, so we can ensure the correct decisions will be made.  Can you please give this some thought?  Can we make an appointment with your attorney to have this changed soon?

This one example really gets you thinking.  Anytime there is a significant change in your life or a parent’s life, consider discussing with an elder law or estate planning attorney.  Being proactive isn’t always easy or pleasant, but it can head off gut-wrenching issues that will occur at some point, especially if you have elderly loved ones.  Making sound decisions in the midst of crisis is not the optimal time to think clearly.

Lead with love, and start communicating while you can!

©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.

6 Practical Ways to Help Your Parents This Summer

Spending time visiting your parents this summer?  Here are 6 practical ways that you can assist your elderly parents.

  1. Help your parents protect all their assets.  Know all the professionals they work with, i.e. CPA, financial planner, attorney, etc.
  2. Know the location of all their important documents.  If the documents are in a locked cabinet or fireproof storage, know where the keys are kept.
  3. Have the important conversations with them about their wishes for the future, who will be their executor, healthcare power of attorney, and discuss distribution of the heirlooms and personal property.
  4. You can’t take it with you!  If they are able, suggest to your parents that they write a master list of who should get what, and give the document to the executor.  Or, they can ask each child what they would like to have, and put that on a “wish list”.  A document cuts down on the “he said-she said” that often goes on when settling an estate.
  5. Start de-cluttering and thinning out your parents’ home now.  Often children are overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” in their Depression Era parents’ home.  This is a good way to begin the process of cleaning out, so you won’t have to do it all at once later.  Make sure you have their permission.
  6. Always come from a place of love.  You will have several difficult conversations and awkward moments when asking your parents these questions.  Always approach them with love.  For example, “Mom, we are very worried about you and would like to have a talk about what you would like for your future.  Sue and I would like to honor your wishes, but first, we need to know what those wishes are.”

For more practical tips and compassionate advice, read my best-selling book, The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff.  Check the right side of my blog for a link to order my books.

©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.

It Was As If She Never Existed

All it would have taken was some planning.  Mrs. Jones was recently removed from her home due to rapidly progressing dementia.  Since she had no children and her husband pre-deceased her, there was no one to care for her and her financial matters.  The case was turned over to a guardian who nothing about her or her situation.  I was asked to go to Mrs. Jones’ home and evaluate the possessions to see what could be sold for her continued care.

I went to the home and spent some time photographing it for the guardian so they could see the type of home and possessions that were in it.  While the home was basically clean, you could see that someone afflicted with dementia was living there, as the upstairs was all askew.  Food was left in the refrigerator from months before, and the drawers, cabinets, etc. had been rummaged through.  My job was to report back my findings, what could be sold, and offer an estimate to clean out the house.

As it turns out, they do not know if the house is falling into foreclosure, or if it is owned outright, or if there is even any money in Mrs. Jones’ name.  It would appear from a stranger looking in, that there were little-to-no facts about Mrs. Jones at all — it was as if any knowledge of her took leave when her dementia took hold.

My heart really went out to Mrs. Jones.  I am no stranger to dementia and how it affects the one who has it, and also the loved ones around them.  Yet, no one stepped forward to claim Mrs. Jones.  No one even knew if she had any financial means.  All they knew is all the utilities had been turned off because she forgot to pay the bills.  One day she was there and one day she was moved.  It’s as if she never existed.

If ever there was a classic example of planning ahead, it’s this one.  Ask yourself, your parents, your spouse … what IF?  Isn’t it better to give this life situation, and many others similar to it, some serious thought now while you can?

I am an old softy.  Tough as nails when I have to be, but soft when it comes to the elderly and infirmity.  Most of this scenario, if not all of it, could have been avoided with some pre-planning.  It’s too late for Mrs. Jones.  I don’t even want to think about where she is or the kind of care she is receiving.  But it’s not too late for us and our loved ones.

Have the talk today!

© 2013 Julie Hall

Senior Scams are in Full Swing

… And it’s going to get worse!

Boomer children, be warned.  While the poor economy is definitely a huge culprit when it comes to senior scams, we also need to face the fact that many people out there are indescribably unscrupulous, earning money to hurt the ones you love.  I’ve often wondered how these people sleep at night and live with themselves, but I have come to realize these scam artists don’t seem to have much of a conscience.

Since I have had several blog followers ask me to write about the scams that have robbed their loved ones in many different ways, I want to shed light on what our seniors are going through, that often as children we don’t see … or don’t want to see.  The phone rings and it’s a friendly voice the elderly person is attracted to.  Our elderly relative might be lonely or soft-hearted and give information they shouldn’t give to the stranger.  Sadly, they are of a generation that may not fully recognize the impact of the world wide web and its power.  The stroke of a finger on a keyboard could mean financial devastation to them, and their personal information is spread around the world in an instant, never to be retrieved.

The telemarketers prey on them, promising a lottery, other forms of a windfall, and free stuff.  There is no “free.”  It all comes at a price.  We must also take into consideration that many of our relatives suffer from dementia, and the effects it has on their logic and reasoning.  In some cases, they don’t know any better, or they are just sweet-natured and gullible.  Some even buy things from TV home shopping channels just to have social interaction with the customer service rep on the phone and the UPS man when he drops off their purchases.

These are some of the things I see, but the National Council on Aging has this to say about senior scams:

  • All seniors are targeted, both low income as well as high income, because it is perceived they have plenty of money saved.
  • Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others. (Wow, this is really sad!)

Their top 10 list of senior scams:

For more details on each, go to: Top 10 Senior Scams

  1. Health Care / Medicare / Health Insurance Fraud
  2. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
  3. Funeral & Cemetery scams
  4. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
  5. Telemarketing
  6. Internet Fraud
  7. Investment Schemes
  8. Homeowner / Reverse Mortgage scams
  9. Sweepstakes and Lottery scams
  10. The Grandparent scam

Also, consider contacting your local Better Business Bureau for senior scams  in your area, and how they can be avoided.  Make sure to place your elderly loved one’s phone number on the National “Do Not Call” Registry. Registry

While scammers still do call, it is done less frequently.  Remind them your number is on the “Do Not Call” list.

Please do your research, and do everything in your power to protect your loved one!

© 2012 Julie Hall

You Can’t Take it with You!

Joanne was in her mid-seventies, and her daughter knew mom just couldn’t take care of a house over 4,000 square feet on over an acre of land.  Joanne had to have a home that large to house all of her possessions.  She needed to downsize and move to Assisted Living, but she was giving her daughter a very difficult time about the move.

The daughter made an appointment for me to come over and educate them in the estate sale process.  Her exact words: “Mom’s got 4,000 square feet full of stuff, junk and everything else, and it’s time to sell it all so she can fit into her new place.”  To complicate the matter, the house had already sold!

Throughout the conversation at Joanne’s house, I had a familiar feeling that I had to share.  I addressed the daughter who had asked me to come: “I would be happy to assist you in selling the remainder of this estate, but I have a funny feeling mom will not part with anything.”

Joanne looked over at me and gave me a “cat ate the canary” grin; I knew she was up to something.  The daughter insisted that all of the possessions had to go.  Still, I persisted as gracefully as I knew how.  “I think your mom might have other plans for it, don’t you, Joanne?”  Again, I received the same grin, but she sat silent, as if this was punishing her daughter for trying to make the right decision.

The daughter became increasingly disturbed, and I was caught in the middle.  “Mom, what is going on?”  Still, no reply from her mother.  Once more, I put on my gentle voice and stuck my neck out.  “I’d be willing to guess mom has other plans for her possessions.  Something like storage.”  Mom’s face was simply beaming.  I had hit the nail on the head!

The daughter’s face grew dark like an impending storm, and demanded to know what nonsense mom was up to.  Finally, it came out.  “Julie’s right.  I’ve already reserved four extra large storage units.  I’m not giving it away, or selling it.  It’s mine.  No one can have it but me!”

The lady who wouldn’t let go ended up moving and placing everything in storage, to the tune of over $7,000 per year.

Moral: You can’t take it with you, no matter how hard you try!

© 2012 Julie Hall

Protect Your Vulnerable Parents

Your parents, especially those who live alone, are vulnerable to scams and schemes for three reasons.  First, seniors tend to be trusting.  They also may be lonely and sometimes distant from those who can protect them.  Senior parents are also vulnerable because they worry about their financial security.  Finally, scammers know that many seniors have money and valuable possessions.

Even though approximately 50 percent of elderly Americans are victims of financial exploitation, only 10 to 15 percent of the abuses are reported.

The following may indicate that your parents are being victimized:

  * Sudden bank account changes, especially an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money
  * Unfamiliar long-distance telephone numbers, especially from overseas, on their monthly bill
  * Significantly lower standard of living (change in eating and shopping habits; unable to afford things they once afforded)
  * Selling higher-end items such as furniture, antiques, and so on
  * Sudden disappearance of valuable possessions
  * Increase in commercial or junk mail
  * Sudden change in behavior; symptoms of depression or anxiety
  * Increased worries over money

Your parents protected you when you were young with advice and example.  Look both ways before crossing the street, never speak to strangers, and a host of other suggestions were meant to protect you.  Sadly, our parents reach a point where they need us to protect them!

Here are six suggestions to protect your parents from scams and schemes:

1. Ask or discuss with your parents who has durable power of attorney.

2. Register your parents’ telephone numbers with the National Do Not Call registry (

3. Discuss with them the list of common frauds listed above.  Ask them to contact you if they suspect anyone is trying to defraud them.

4. Ask your parents to contact you if anyone offers to buy any of their possessions.

5. Make sure a family member personally visits your parents on a weekly basis.  If this is a challenge and you have other siblings, take turns.

6. Reduce junk mail for a small fee by going to either of these web sites: and

The National Center for Elder Abuse is an excellent resource for information on financial and other forms of abuse against senior citizens.  It publishes reports and conducts research on this growing problem.  NCEA’s mission is to promote understanding, knowledge sharing, and action on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.  Its web site also offers links to other excellent resources and organizations also devoted to protecting senior citizens.  Their web site is

Honor your parents by standing between them and anyone who sees them as an easy target.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Oh Brother, Sister! What Have You Done?

My experiences with client cases never cease to amaze me.  This one amazed even me!

An elderly client passes away with much of her  family estranged from her.  Interestingly enough, every time we went into the estate to conduct work, more and more was missing – mostly the “good stuff.”  (This is why you change the keys/locks after a loved one dies.)  So we reported it to the estate administrator and the keys were changed promptly.  That is fairly typical in most estates, and you might even have your own stories about family helping themselves.  What happened next is unthinkable!

As with all deaths, the executor or attorney needs to close all accounts, settle debt, etc.  Imagine the surprise when the credit card bills came rolling in AFTER the date the woman died!  Come to find out it was a family member who did it and is being (and should be) held financially responsible.

As we were cleaning out the estate, we discovered something that at first made no sense.  Where was her purse?  It was nowhere in sight.  Someone swiped her purse!  Probably the same one who took her credit card.

It’s hard to believe people like this exist out there.  How could someone stoop so low as to steal from a deceased sister?  This is another reason to plan your estate and distribute it prior to passing away, if you can.  No one should be taken advantage of, especially when someone is no longer here to protect themselves.

© 2011, The Estate Lady