Exercise Discernment When Cleaning Out Mom & Dad’s House

Don’t take things just to take them!

Boomers, take heed.  As our parents pass away, the temptation to sock away their belongings is great, but take the time to really think about what you are doing.  Don’t keep it because you think your children or grandchildren might change their minds one day.  Don’t get stuck paying for ludicrous storage bills that far outweigh the value of what you place inside there.  Don’t fall into the trap of being a storage for your kids either.  In the blink of an eye, you will be wanting to downsize; the time has come to hold yourself accountable in all of this.  It’s either you who will do it or your children will do it, so why not do it for them?

TAKE only what is really special to you, because the kids will most likely not change their minds and it will be sold off for pennies on the dollar, when it falls in the hands of your children.

TAKE photographs, because they take up less space but you still have the memory of the item(s).

TAKE into consideration that if your children say “no,” they don’t want these items.  They really mean “no.”

TIPS:  Don’t sell, give away, or donate anything until a professional has examined it.  So many boomers throw away or give away personal possessions worth a small fortune, simply because they don’t know the values.  Tell everyone “no” until the appraiser has reviewed everything.  The cost to pay a personal property appraiser is nothing compared to the value you could find, not to mention the peace of mind it will give you!

KEEP the following:

  • Anything that can provide family history.
  • Family heirlooms if they are wanted and will be cherished.  Don’t force heirlooms on the children if their hearts aren’t in it.
  • All items of perceived monetary value.  Hire that appraiser to find out for sure!
  • Family photographs
  • Rare or unusual items (some antiques fall into this category).  If someone has room for them and wants them, that’s fine.  It’s okay to sell them if no one wants them.
  • Jewelry.  Have items appraised first for fair market value, not replacement value.
  • Items with historic significance.  You may donate if no family wants them.
  • Important documents.  These must be kept together until they are all sorted through by the executor.
  • Collections (gold, coins, guns, stamps, etc.).  Always have them evaluated by a professional.  It is unusual to find appraisers for different specialty collections.
  • Antiques, artwork, paintings, sculpture.  These must be evaluated by a professional.
  • Military items.  These items are sought by collectors but may also be vital to family history.
  • Safes, safety deposit boxes, and their contents.  Have a key or know where keys or passwords are located.
  • Anything you cannot identify.  Have a professional look at it for you.

Don’t take things just to take them.  Select a few sentimental items that are small enough for you to use or display in your home.  Great family or marital strife can develop if you take too much.  Remember, the more you take now, the more your children will have to deal with later.

©2014 The Estate Lady®

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

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

Guilt – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Each day, I work closely with heirs attempting to deal with what their parents have left behind.  Some parents leave more than others, and some downsize long before their time comes.  Some are so attached to their possessions, they leave it all for their children to contend with.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear they use their possessions as an anchor to this world, not fully understanding that when you are called to enter the heavenly gates, you can’t take a thing with you.  You leave this earth much as you entered it, and we didn’t bring one material possession when we arrived.

On a daily basis, I hear middle-aged children tell me their mother “would kill them” if they sold or gave her possessions away, or that mom “always told me how valuable it was and to never sell it,” or that “I had to pass this down to the kids or she’d roll in her grave.”  They openly share with me that mother always stressed the importance of these things and they now feel badly, wanting to sell them.

Friends, this is what I call strategically applied guilt and I am offering you some helpful advice here with the hopes that you will read it, re-read it, and pass it along to those who need to read it!

  1. Every “thing” has a season.  That season of cherishing that item was during your mom’s lifetime, not necessarily yours.  Free yourself and make peace with this.
  2. You may need permission to let it go.  Here it is: It’s OK to let go and let someone else derive pleasure from it. There’s no sense in the item collecting dust, being stacked in your attic, or wrapped up in old newspaper in a box where it has remained since 1977.  Let it go!
  3. No, the kids and grandkids really don’t want it, most of the time.  Even if you have an idea in your head that they will want it in the future, most of the time they don’t.  Ask them what they would like to keep now.  If it’s not on their list, don’t force them to take it.  All you are doing is “passing the buck” to the younger generation that has no tolerance for “stuff.”  They prefer cash.
  4. Why would you clutter up your house with someone else’s stuff?  It’s not fair to you, your spouse, your children.  Make a pact with yourself that you will sort through it in a timely manner … not years, but weeks.  Hire an appraiser to uncover what has value so you can make sound decisions.  Get the kids on board and set dates for them to come get what they want.  If it is unclaimed, give it to a charity of choice; let it go to someone who will appreciate it.  It really is simple — you just have to make up your mind to do it, and forgive yourself for anything you think you are doing incorrectly.  Always look forward.
  5. I’m sure they don’t care about their material possessions in heaven.  Agree?
  6. Relieve yourself and your children of guilt.  Here’s how …

My mom gave me a great gift before she died (her death was not expected).  She took me to the guest room closet which had several packing boxes stacked.  She told me those boxes were filled with family photos.  “When I die, Julie, just throw them away because they are photos of people I don’t even know; I will not give you the guilt my mother put on me.”

When mom died unexpectedly and I was in her home cleaning it out, I walked up to that closet and replayed that scene in my mind.  I actually laughed out loud when I reached for the boxes, telling my brother what mom had told me.  Even though we went through the boxes, she was right and I had no trouble letting go.  I was incredibly grateful my mother gave me that “gift” and relieved me of that burden.  That’s love!

It’s OK to feel a pang of uncertainty.  It’s not OK to drag this stuff with you through life, allowing it to drag you down with it.  It’s not right to place it all on your children.  Learn from this painful experience.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

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

‘Til Death Do Us Part

Most of us enjoy hearing those words during a wedding ceremony, where the new couple is floating in bliss and envision being by each other’s side until death separates them.  From my perspective, however, I see people who have a very passionate relationship with their material possessions, sometimes more so than each other!  If I didn’t know better, I would say they behave as if they can take their possessions with them when they leave this earth, but we know that we can’t take stuff with us.

I have seen it all.  In all those years of estate work, I have tried to figure out why people have such a hard time “letting go.”  Often, the Depression Era generation is the one that has accumulated the most, in my experience.  Their parents did not have much and probably possessed more utilitarian items because of the era in which they lived.  When their parents passed away, they did not distribute or sell those items … they absorbed them.  The boomers have multiple generations of stuff to deal with when their Depression Era parents pass away.

Here are a few thoughts on why people hold on to so much:

  • You just never know when I’m going to need this.
  • There are so many things I could use this for.
  • If I hold onto it long enough, it will become valuable.
  • It is already old, so it must be valuable.
  • I did without as a child and I will not do without again.
  • It was a gift and I will honor the giver by keeping it.
  • The more I leave the kids, the more they will have.
  • I worked very hard for these things and I will pass them down.
  • They bring comfort and familiarity.
  • Sentimental reasons.
  • Too overwhelmed to let it go — emotional attachment.
  • I’ll let my kids deal with this after I’m gone.

As an appraiser of residential contents, this is the part where I try to put my clients at ease.  When in doubt, always have the contents of an estate appraised prior to distributing or selling contents.  Most times, the heirs are not surprised to learn that much of what mom and dad amassed doesn’t have much value.  Some children feel that items might be “junk” and some pieces do turn out to have significant value, pleasantly surprising them.  Family stories through the years can add to the anticipation that great-grandfather’s chair is more valuable because it is so old, but age is not the only factor of value.  There are many more characteristics of value we look at to determine it’s worth.

Another important issue that the older generation should realize is that many of their heirs already have houses that are full of accumulation from 25+ years of marriage.  Adding more stuff will only fuel marital strife.  I’ve seen divorces happen over keeping too much stuff.

Some kids keep items to sell, others for sentimental reasons. others because they feel guilt because “mother would kill me if I didn’t keep this.”  The younger generation appear to want nothing but cash assets.  Even if your children do take a few items, their children definitely don’t want them now, and most likely will feel the same in the future.  They are not interested in antiques or traditional possessions when they could take the cash and go to IKEA or Pottery Barn.  This is the trend.

Holding on to possessions because you don’t want to let them go will leave a massive burden on your children.  Gifting now and making plans for the distribution of your possessions while you are still here (and in control of those decisions) is the best plan of action.  Take it from one who knows!

©2013 The Estate Lady®

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

Getting Your Affairs in Order is Not Just for the Elderly

In years gone by, I can recall that the majority of my clients were the elderly looking for help downsizing.  Somewhere around 2003, that all changed and the calls coming into my office were coming from children looking for help handling their parents’ estates after they passed away or help cleaning out their estates.

Today, things have shifted once again.  While I still work with the elderly occasionally, and certainly work with the boomer children who are the majority of my business, I see an ever-increasing (and hair-raising) trend of hearing from younger children whose parents have died unexpectedly in their 50s and 60s.

We all seem to be programmed that infirmity and death only occur in old age.  Sadly, this is not the case.  Perhaps it is wishful thinking on our part, or not wanting to think about it at all.  But in my work, I am seeing more and more of my deceased clients are eerily close to my own age, and I never thought of myself as being old.  I find myself thinking about my clients, and what they are going through, because most of their parents don’t take the time to plan ahead, especially when they are still relatively young.  This throws the grieving children into more of a tail-spin because they may not have had “The Talk.”

Many children do not know what their parents’ final wishes are, nor how the estate is to be divided.  They don’t even know if the parents have a Will or Trust.  These are HUGE issues that weigh heavily on those left behind.

Estate Lady Tips:

  1. Don’t do that to your children or beneficiaries.  You are mortal and a plan has to be shared with loved ones.  While you may not want to discuss this, you will feel much better after you do, and your children will thank you for it.  They will be especially grateful when the time comes, realizing the care you took ahead of time to make their lives easier.  Make an appointment to have a Will/Trust drawn up this week.
  2. Don’t die in debt.  This is a horrid situation.  Suffice it to say you create a nightmare for those dealing with your estate.
  3. Ask for an addendum to your Will so you can assign who gets what.  Better yet, give it away while you are still living so there is less to fight about after you are gone.
  4. Start clearing out your home now, even if you are young.  Don’t let it accumulate or it will snowball on you.  gain control of the house (and the piles of stuff we all have) and start clearing out.  Once a month, drop off items to a charity, or arrange for them to come to the house for a pick up.  Have yard sales for a little extra spending money.  If you haven’t seen it or used it in a year, let it go.
  5. Talk to your spouse and children about what you want.  Both of my parents died without much warning.  It’s a good thing they told us what they wanted and had the legal documents to back up their wishes.  When the time came (and it did when I least expected it), I knew exactly what to do.  I can still hear mom telling me, “Dad and I don’t want you to go through any more than you have to, because you will be going through enough when the time comes.  We want to make this as easy as possible on you, and we have made these decisions ahead of time to remove additional stress placed on you.”  This was music to my ears, not fully understanding the massive impact until I had to make a life and death decision for one of them.  I still can’t believe how much love they had for us.

These are not easy things to do.  Doing them sooner, rather than later, will change the way you think about these issues and make it much easier for you and your family in the future.  Take it from one who sees this trouble everyday.

Resources from the Estate Lady:

©2013 The Estate Lady®

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

“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®

Admire … Don’t Acquire

Did you ever think you would hear that from an expert in personal property?  It is an occupational hazard, being in estates all week long and handling the countless items I valuate, handle, and advise on.  I love my job, but let’s face facts — we all have way too much stuff!  It’s not hard to figure out — we buy, inherit, collect, and acquire things as gifts.  Over the course of a lifetime, that really adds up.

A client I met with yesterday was a breath of fresh air.  When I asked which pieces she would be keeping from the estate, she simply said, “Oh no, this stuff can’t come home with me.  I’ll admire, but won’t acquire.  My girlfriends and I are constantly reminding each other not to clutter up our homes.”  And that’s exactly the trap we all get stuck in, but this woman was disciplined!

In my public speeches, I share my theory of why we seem to collect so much, and keep doing it even though we know we already have enough.  Long ago from our early human ancestors, I believe we still have buried deep in our DNA the need to collect and hunt.  Back then, it was for survival.  Here in the 21st century, we just whip out the plastic and buy whatever strikes our fancy.  There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself, but there is something wrong if we continually do it, causing debt issues and marital strife, because the house is getting too full and the wallet is too empty.

I fall prey to temptation myself, especially on Ebay, if I see a pretty piece I would like to have.  I sit there and have a conversation with myself.  “Do you really need this, Julie?  No, you don’t.  Yes, it is nice, but you don’t really need it.  Save your money for something really special.”  Lately, I have found that I am doing this more and more, and it does work.  Not only that, but I am purging my own home, sending some items to auction and other items for a yard sale with friends in the fall.

In the next week or so, I will blog a little more on downsizing and the trends we are seeing in the industry.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Love People and Use Things, Not Love Things and Use People

I found this entry in the old journal my late mother wrote back in the 90’s.  It is a small, leather, white book with gold leaves; she wrote some of her favorite quotes in it.  As an expert in “things,” I really like this quote because it is directly related to what I see everyday.  “Love people and use things, not love things and use people.”

People are so anchored to their things and equate themselves and their success (as well as their legacy) to these “things.”  A legacy doesn’t mean leaving the kids with a large house full of collectibles.  It means love them and teach them.  That is ultimately what we take away with us and what means the most.  Don’t misunderstand — leaving behind an heirloom or two is a lovely gesture, but I am referring to people who haven’t quite figured out that you can’t take it with you.

Turn on the TV and you will see that we are bombarded with shows about finding stuff and making money.  One about finding hidden treasure in storage units and another who makes a good deal of money off other people’s lack of knowledge.  Believe me when I tell you that 99% of people are going to remove from storage anything that has exceptional value, prior to them being locked out and forfeiting to public auction!  Believe me when I tell you that those values are NOT accurate and not part of the real world.  We’re in a recession!  That’s just Hollywood.

We spend a lifetime collecting it, buying it, inheriting it, finding it, and then one day, we perish and leave this “load” for our kids.

How about we stop buying the stuff, sell the collectibles, and leave the cash to the kids, which they can really use and will hopefully truly appreciate?  I know I would.  This comment, while you may not agree, comes from years of listening to the children complain about this issue and why their parents never sold the things which mean nothing to them personally.  The stuff becomes a huge headache to deal with; mom and dad said the items were so valuable and the kids discover in today’s market, the value is very low.

If we don’t get rid of the things, I see those children really struggle with guilt when the parents leave them.  They end up filling their homes with the stuff, much to their own children’s and spouse’s chagrin.

These things are an anchor that will only bring you down, or bring down your children and heirs.  Get rid of the stuff, save the cash, and love your family!  Long after we are gone, our children and grandchildren will remember us by our actions, not our things.

© 2012 Julie Hall

From One Extreme to Another

What I love about my work is that no two days, or families, are alike.  I recently worked with a child of an elderly parent who is “ready to get the ball moving and clear out the house now.”  Not time to go through it much — just get it empty and ready to be sold.  Why?  Because he has a financial interest in the property and he openly admitted it.

On the flip side, I know of other children of the elderly who are painstakingly going through the estate to uncover (and even cherish) every piece of paper mom ever touched.  I have seen people hug toasters claiming a special “memory” and even packing up her old coupons to keep, though they expired in 1971.

Somewhere there has to be a happy medium.

I have seen children claim they’re not taking much from mom and dad’s estate because their own houses are so full there is no more room and “my husband will kill me if I take any more stuff.”  Then, when I go back into the estate to do my work, it has been so picked over, there is nothing left but donation items.

I have my own theories about why people have difficulty letting go, particularly the Depression era and older boomer children.  But what they don’t realize is these items will one day become a monkey on the backs of their children.  It’s time to give this serious thought.

The younger kids don’t want the majority of it; what their parents have done is pass the buck to another generation who doesn’t have the same appreciation for these items as their parents do.  As a result, these items will find their way to the dump, Goodwill, yard sales, etc.  And the child will be resentful that they have to take the time to deal with the stuff, because their parents never did.  That is not the kind of legacy I choose to leave.

Best as I can figure out, they believe that by leaving more stuff, they are leaving a valuable inheritance in their eyes.  No one can discount the value of sentiment, including me.  But why are they taking a table saw when they’ve never used one?  It will only take up a huge amount of space and become problematic in the future, sitting there with an inch or two of dust on it.  By the time someone goes to sell it, it will be considered antiquated and obsolete.  It’s only purpose at that point, will be as an anchor.

Keeping that in mind, I also find military medals thrown in the trash where they keep company with the family photos that have been tossed.  If it doesn’t make sense to you, then you’re in excellent company.  You just never know what you’re going to get.  It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

© 2012 Julie Hall

I’m Seeing a Paradigm Shift

Lately, I have had an influx of calls that are resembling a pattern.  Boomer children are coming to grips with the financial hardship of long-term care for our elderly parents — and it comes at a high price.  We are living longer, but not necessarily healthier.

It used to be these boomers, of which I am one of them, called me to come out and appraise a few items or advise them on the best way to dissolve their estate.  Today, the phone calls have shifted to something a little more alarming.  “We need you to come out and advise us what these items will bring in today’s market.  Mom is in assisted living/nursing home and we have to sell everything to keep up with her care.  We even have to sell the family silver and heirlooms.”

These distress calls for help are a sign of the times.  It’s part poor economy, part living longer, and part not planning or saving as well as we could have or should have during our lives.  But even that last statement has multiple causes … I know many people who worked hard their entire lives, or were quite affluent, only to lose it in the stock market, ending up in possible foreclosure or financial ruin.

Sometimes it’s as simple as going through all the money the parent had, and now the children are doing their best to keep the parents’ care going; that includes selling what the children thought were valuable heirlooms.  Sometimes they do have value and sometimes they don’t, but the wrong time to sell is when the market is soft.

We need to learn from these hardships which are taking so much out on the children.  All of them thought it wouldn’t happen to them, but it did and it can.

I see a common denominator:  We are buying too much stuff we don’t need.  Shopping compulsions abound for men and for women.  At the end of the day, we are surrounded by piles of stuff and little money for our future.

MORAL TO THE STORY:  The frugal survive and thrive.  A little less HSN and QVC and a little more money saved for a rainy day.  This won’t solve all our problems, but it will build our confidence that we are doing all we can for an uncertain future, especially in healthcare costs.

© 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