A Change in Your Health Can Mean 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 ith 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!

© 2011 Julie Hall

My Christmas gift to you

Again this year, I’ve helped people understand the necessity of preparation before death, and helped them avoid battles over stuff after death.  I have accumulated a wealth of understanding after nearly 20 years of experience handling personal property in estates.

My book, The Boomer Burden — Dealing With Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff, provides practical and effective steps for liquidating and distributing your parents’ assets in a way that both honors them and promotes family harmony.

You’ve probably heard the stories:  arguments over stuff, an inheritance lost forever when parents are scammed, siblings estranged, or an adult heir taken from daily responsibilities for months while trying to empty their childhood home. 

This book is valuable for both senior adults and Boomer children.  My trustworthy counsel covers the following areas:

  • Divide your parents’ estate with peace of mind
  • Minimize fighting with siblings during the estate settlement process
  • Clear out the family home in two weeks or less
  • Identify potential items of value in the home
  • Have “that conversation” with your parents
  • Prepare your own children for the future

Amazon.com carrys my book; you can purchase it in time for your family’s holiday celebrations.  If you have a close relationship with parents and siblings, you owe it to all to keep harmony in the home after the unexpected death of a parent.  If there are difficult relationships, distance between you and your parents, an accumulation of stuff in your parents’ home, and other thorny issues, please buy a copy of this book and save yourself even more pain and struggle.

One of the most distressing, yet integral parts of estate planning and liquidation is the division of personal property; who gets what?  A vital conversation now can go a long way to prevent squabbling between the heirs after mom and dad pass away.  For peaceful resolutions and wonderful guidance, please order The Boomer Burden.  It has earned wonderful reviews, and it makes a great gift for siblings, parents, children, even clients.

This is my Christmas gift to your family: a wealth of information and valuable resources to protect the relationship, sanity, and peace among your family.  The joy of preparation for the inevitable, and the kindness of knowing that everything is in order.  Merry Christmas!

© 2010 Julie Hall

“Mom just told that same story and Dad can’t hear it anymore”

Many of us will gather with close family at Christmas and/or New Years.  You may want to observe your parents, or other close relatives, and take note of any new signs of the aging process.

Some of these signs, if occurring infrequently, are no cause for panic.  These signs could mean that your parents need to have someone check on them daily, or to consider assisted living.

  • Declining mobility
  • Vision problems
  • Loss of interest in favorite pastimes
  • Irritability
  • Hearing loss
  • Confusion
  • Repetition
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Unopened mail
  • Changes in the home environment
  • Unusual spending and/or hoarding (collecting)
  • Preoccupation with finances
  • Change in appetite or not eating well
  • Staying alone, isolation
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Bruising from stumbles or falls

What should you do if you notice any of these signs of aging in your parents?  You shouldn’t overreact, or force the issue to discussion.  You should not ignore the signs either.  Just pay attention.

1. Begin keeping a diary or log of what you notice.  By paying attention and keeping a record, you will be able to objectively determine if these behaviors are happening infrequently, or if they are getting worse and may need intervention.

2. Begin to think about the future.  No one likes to face the inevitable facts of decline and death of our parents.  Those who allow themselves to think proactively are much better prepared for the day when all they have left is their parents’ empty house.  It’s the adult children who have been in denial who really become unglued when the end finally arrives.

With family gathered, this may be a good opportunity to observe and discuss the facts together as siblings.  Go for a walk or out for coffee together.  A little investment of time when all are together may ease the challenges you’ll face later.

Whatever you observe, continue to love them and make great memories together as a family!

© 2010 Julie Hall

Tonight: “Top 10 Tips for Dealing with Your Parents’ Personal Property”

Join me tonight at 7 pm!  I’ll be discussing the top 10 ways you can help your parents before a mental or physical crisis occurs. 

With the holidays coming close, this is a perfect time to discuss important issues with your family, especially your parents.   More important than deciding which side dishes to serve for Thanksgiving, this is information that will be most valuable to your family!

Join me for this FREE teleseminar on Tuesday, Nov 16 from 7-8 pm. I’m joining Anne Holmes of the National Association of Baby Boomer Women. Julie Hall Teleseminar link  I’ll be taking questions too, so please call in and ask me your question.

After the seminar has concluded, I’ll post my top 10 list right here  for you to download and share.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Your Parents Need Protection!

About a year ago, I gave my blog readers the following suggestions about protecting our parents and other elderly relatives.   Occasional news stories continue to sadden and disturb me, as another elderly, well-meaning person falls victim to a clever scam or scheme.  Please review these suggestions, and pass this information along to others, so together we can protect our elderly family and friends.

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 (www.donotcall.gov).

3. Discuss with them the list of common frauds (see The Boomer Burden, chapter 7).  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: www.stopthejunkmail.com and http://mailstopper.tonic.com.

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 www.ncea.aoa.gov.

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

© 2010 Julie Hall

“Mom has a friend…Maybe we’ll use her.”

Margaret called me from a Chicago suburb with a frantic tone in her voice.  “We have all this stuff, and we don’t have a clue how to get rid of it!  It looks like it might be junk, but there are some antiques in here too.  What do we do?  My mom has a friend who is sort of in the business.  She’s dabbled in buying and selling for years.  Maybe I should just hire her.”

Her words hit a nerve!  It’s sort of like saying, “My brother got an A in dissecting, so why not let him do your brain surgery?”

I strongly urged her to hire a professional, and warned her about letting an untrained friend handle something as important as this.  But she decided to go to her friend anyway, a decision that cost her dearly.

A month later, Margaret called me again, in tears. “I’ve made a horrible mistake, and I don’t know how to undo it.  My mom’s friend didn’t know the true value of many of the items in the house and sold them for pennies.  One local dealer contacted me to tell me the estate person charged $75 for a fine antique English Windsor chair that was worth about $800.  An antique needlepoint sampler dated 1854 sold for $10, but should have sold for several hundred.  I am eaten up with misery wondering how many other things got sold for next to nothing.”

Please get the right kind of help!  Unscrupulous professionals come out of the woodwork at a time of crisis.  Amateurs, even though they are friends or golf buddies or play bridge with you, are still amateurs!  It may be costly to hire the right professional, but an amateur is much more “costly” in the end.

© 2010 Julie Hall

6 Practical Ways to Help Your Parents This Fall

Now that the weather is cooling and the leaves are ready to fall, 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 both my books.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Family Secrets

Sometimes, clearing out a family home will uncover things you never knew about a loved one.  I recall one home I was called to clear out; we found written evidence that the father had an affair way back in the 1940s.  This sort of information should be handled with kid gloves.  The best advice is to dispose of any such thing, while you are alive, that may cause great pain to loved ones, if they should find it after you’re gone . . . because someone will find it.

As you walk through your loved one’s home, you may find evidence that one of your parents had an illicit relationship, a secret habit, a child borne out of wedlock, something illegal, etc.  You may discover that your father hadn’t filed tax returns for several years, or that your mom had given up a child for adoption when she was seventeen.  In other words, you may discover things about one of your parents that no one knew and that would bring embarrassment if their secret got out.  What would you do?

If you discover something unsavory or unflattering about your parents or a loved one, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does what I found offer absolute proof or only raise suspicions?
  • Would what I found be considered evidence for any unsolved crime?
  • If the information became public, would it implicate someone outside the family?
  • Does anyone else have the right to know something my mother or father wanted to be kept secret?
  • Will I be affected emotionally or spiritually trying to keep something secret from my siblings?
  • If my mother or father went to great lengths to keep this secret, should I tell it? (Think long and hard before you respond.)

The answers aren’t always clear and often there are gray areas.  It is important to realize that everyone reading this will have a different opinion as to how to handle these matters.  Always use your best instinct.  When in doubt, seek outside counsel to help with the issue at hand.

© 2010 Julie Hall

The Simple Process of Preparing a Will

I want to follow up last week’s true story about Carolyn with some simple information about why you need a will.  I know what you are thinking right now … “I’m young and in perfect health; why do I need to rush and prepare a will?”  No one is guaranteed the length of their days on earth; accidents and illness can come suddenly.  A will is necessary even if you feel you have nothing of value.  You probably have sentimental items that you wish to give to specific heirs.

Preparing a will is a fairly simple process that doesn’t have to be any more complicated or time-consuming than going out to lunch with a friend.

A last will and testament is a legal document that gives clear instructions about what to do with your property after your death and how death taxes, if any, are to be paid, along with final expenses that would include any debt and administrative costs.  It states who is to receive the property and in what amounts. 

A will may also be used to name a guardian for any minor children or to create a trust to handle an estate inheritance to protect spendthrift children or others.  Finally, and this is important in the case of your parents, a will can be used to name a personal representative or executor to handle property and affairs from the time of death until an estate is settled.

You do not have to hire an attorney to make out a will, though I highly recommend it.  The law is multifaceted, and all kinds of scenarios can erupt.  Depending on the complexity of the will, it will initially cost  a few hundred dollars to have an attorney explain your options and then draw up the document. 

But what Carolyn had written on notebook paper in her own handwriting could have served as a legal will if it were witnessed and notarized … and found.  When you consider the years and tears that your heirs and family will endure if you pass away without a  will, a few hundred dollars and a legal will becomes the most loving investment you can make in family harmony and peace.

© 2010 Julie Hall

The Art of Procrastination

Why do some procrastinate when dealing with death, caregiving, and other challenging issues?  That is the million-dollar question!

Some of us are exceptionally good at doing things and tending to every imaginable task, like it or not.  Some of us are followers that are very good at taking direction from the doers.  Still, others are extremely skilled at procrastination and avoiding the elephant in the room, even if it must be dealt with.

In my 20 year professional quest for the answer to procrastination, I am reminded of an image we have all seen in old “spaghetti westerns”, the old cowboy pushing and cursing at his stubborn donkey to get up and go!  The same is true for our clients, relatives, and friends.  Never is it more unnerving than when you are trying to settle an estate, handle issues related to an illness or the death of a loved one, and the decision maker is — dare I say it — a procrastinator.

Why do some procrastinate? 

First, they don’t have the ability to, or simply can’t, deal with the issue at hand.  Perhaps it is too emotional, or they are just indecisive people to begin with and tackle all life’s issues in this manner.

Second, they simply don’t want to handle this issue.  Often, but not always, these personality types ill allow people who are doers to come in and take over the reins (literally).  With people like this, I always map out a plan — here’s what happens first, second, etc.  They like to know what is going on, but don’t necessarily desire to be a part of the process.

Third, why deal with it today when I don’t have to?  There’s not much I can say about this type.  I have seen many unexpected deaths in my line of work, and to me, there’s no time like the present.  Why put it off when it has to be done anyway?  Just do it!

There is no known cure for procrastination.  One would think that time and experience would teach people not to put things off.  Since the beginning of time, people have put things off because they didn’t want to think or act.  That’s why so many people perish without having even a basic will, let alone having many other vital issues discussed and planned out. 

Procrastination is a bad word.  Planning, while you are in control and have your say, is a beautiful gift to everyone around you!

“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”  ~~Napoleon Hill

© 2010 Julie Hall