David Vs. Goliath

Images of the nasty, colossal giant filled our heads when we first heard the story of David and Goliath as children.  For purposes of today’s blog, let’s look to this story as the little guys vs. the big guys (small business owners vs. large corporations).

Recently, I attended numerous small business events and a few weekend festivals.  I was surrounded by hundreds of vendors, each trying to sell something: widgets, kitchen ware, handmade jewelry, insurance, small appliances, books — you name it!  While I participated in what appeared to be a vibrant display of colors on a beautiful day, what I noticed most of all popped my balloon and sent my spirits southbound.

While everyone was caught up in the festivities, I saw something no one else seemed to notice; no one was buying much of anything.  There were free give-aways and samples, but very few people were doling out the cash for any product.  The thought occurred to me that all these vendors shelled out cash to rent space, with the high hopes of selling their products or services.  When one looked at the people in the booths, you could see the weariness on their faces, as they worried that their business might not make it.

I took notice of the small jewelers who were silversmiths, etc.  Their work was lovely but high-priced.  I am the first to acknowledge and praise the labor of love that goes into a work of art, but people these days are buying precious metals at spot price, not four or ten times spot price.  I realize they are buying art and not weight, but in my circles, I see it sell by weight.  So how on earth is the little guy supposed to make ends meet?

This is a common theme among small business owners, especially in the last few years.  There are numerous causes for concern: the economy, demand of what’s hot and what’s not, capital needs to run the business, taxes, etc.  My business adviser said the two main reasons businesses fails is:

  • People run out of money, and
  • People lose their follow-through and tenacity.

While these may be accurate, we are living in strange times.  Many people are anxious about money and worried that they won’t have enough or already don’t have enough.

It seems lately that the little guy is getting beat to a pulp.  They are losing their benefits, having to let go of employees because they can no longer afford them, etc.  I think the government often hurts the little guy instead of helping them.  Such a shame!

Many of the greatest corporations came from modest roots.  Look at Facebook, Microsoft, and others.  These guys started out in one room with very little money, but armed with fantastic ideas that changed our daily lives. Can we all be Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg?  No.  We’re not meant to be.  We’re meant to illuminate our corner of the world with our thoughts and ideas every day and do the best that we can.

I can’t pretend to know all the issues out there that affect small business owners, but I know this much — If little David can slay a giant with one strategically placed stone, we just need to have a little faith and practice more strategic thinking.  Then, we too can be successful.

©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.

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

The Secret Keeper

My father used to play a game with me as a small child.  When he wanted to know what mom had bought for his birthday or Christmas, he would say, “Julie will tell me what mom bought.  I can always get it out of Julie!”  I had been sworn to secrecy by my brother because I was the little tattletale in the family.  But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep that secret.  Little did I know that as an adult, life would ask me to not only keep them, but to take them to my grave so no one would get hurt.  This story, I can share…

Steven was only 43 years old.  He was top executive, divorced with children, and lived as a bachelor in a very nice home with lovely furnishings.  Steven had a good life and all that he could want or need: a stable line of work, choice real estate, comfortable lifestyle, children, etc.  But something went very wrong along the way.

One night, for no known reason to his family or friends, Steven ended his life.  There was no note found or any indication for the reasoning behind his actions.  We were brought in to sell and clear out the home completely.

During the clearing out phase, I personally found a stack of letters that were found in a closet.  They were in no particular order and wide open.  Many of them were notes and cards obviously exchanged between sweethearts.  Unsure whether to dispose of these or not because the significant other might want them, I opened up the top card only to reveal words that might have offered a reason why he ended his life.  I felt an overwhelming responsibility to do the right thing, but what was the right thing in this case?

There were two choices: I could dispose of the items and keep this secret locked away in my head forever, or I could call the family and somehow search for the right words to explain my findings in a very delicate manner.  Having no previous experience with this particular scenario of suicide, I sat in silence contemplating the situation that had been laid upon my lap.  I had in my hands potential evidence as to why this distraught man ended his life, and my heart grew heavy with the emotions he must have been experiencing.  When my hands held his handwritten note, I could feel he was completely shattered.

After what seemed like an eternity of contemplation, I knew exactly what I had to do.  The family had the right, no matter how painful, to know something as serious as this; I had to give them the opportunity to make the choice themselves.  Calling the closest relative from my cell phone, I wanted to sound calm and reassuring.

When the relative picked up the phone, I greeted the relative and explained that I was still in the home working.  “I’ve found a letter I think you may want to see, but I need your permission to send it to you.  I believe it could offer you an answer as to the reason Steven is no longer with us.  Would you like me to FedEx it out to you?”  Much to my surprise, the family rejected my offer to send it to them and did not want to know the reasons behind his actions.  Some things are just too painful.  His words are forever etched in my mind to be buried with me later in life, unknown to anyone who loved him.

© 2011 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

The Accidental Expert

Never in a million years would I have thought I would turn out to be “The Estate Lady.”  I would have been perfectly content with a career dealing with animals, being a marine biologist, or something more carefree than dealing with heirs and heirlooms each and every day.  I used to think it was all by accident that I ended up where I am, writing books, speaking publicly, teaching at universities, etc.

Back in my twenties, and still working full-time for a large corporation, I met with Wilma, a lovely 103 year old woman, who needed assistance handling her soon-to-be-estate.  I was just breaking into the estate business handling personal property, but I soon discovered I had a special gift of listening to people, uncovering their needs, then finding a way to fulfill those needs.  It didn’t take me long to see the vision of what was coming and figure out that seniors – not to mention their children – needed me and my services.

Much to my horror, Wilma’s neighbors, upon hearing she was dying and had no heirs, decided to trample through her home in my absence and help themselves to her gorgeous possessions that had significant worth.  Long story, short: Wilma knew she had been taken advantage of by these unscrupulous people who only had greed in their hearts, and truly lacked love and compassion for this elderly woman facing a difficult transition.

The saddest part is this happens each day, every day, in each city, in each state, to thousands of people every 24 hours.

Wilma was the client who unknowingly gave me my company name, The Estate Lady, decades ago.  Was it really an accident I was there to witness such an account of low human behavior?  Or was I there because it was my destiny to learn from the situation and educate and advocate for those who need it during the daunting times of dissolving the family home?

The more I think about it, the more clearly I see that it was no accident!

© 2011 Julie Hall

Leaving a Legacy of Love

Anne and Bill are a wonderful example of parents being prepared.  Both are in their mid-seventies, in relatively good health, have two children, several grandchildren, and are geographically remote from their family.  They knew that if, or when, something happens to them, their children would have to journey to get there and assist.  Wanting to make life easier for their kids, they decided to make sure their children understood their wishes.

This couple has been married 52 years, very hard working middle class, who saved a great deal of their money, invested it, and wanted their assets protected.  When it came time to downsize their home to move into a smaller one, they de-cluttered their home, sold most of their belongings, and lived comfortably on what they needed.  Anne no longer has a need for all the silver plate, china, etc. and preferred the space to the clutter.

They hired a financial advisor to assist them with decisions, an estate planning attorney to create a revocable trust, and told their children that everything is in writing and gave them each a copy.  The trust clearly states who is the executor, and who is the health care power of attorney.  Both children were clear on their part of the responsibility.  It was very difficult for their children to listen to what their parents’ last wishes were.  Yet, they knew they owed that to their parents.

Each child has a file containing all the vital information of their parents’ estate and guidelines within, even down to funeral arrangements, music to be played, and how many death certificates to order.  This file remains in their file cabinets, hopefully for many years to come, but is easily accessible if (and when) the fateful phone call comes.

Do you see the ease with which the children have already been prepared, thanks to this wonderful set of parents?  For parents to give this much thought into their own mortality cannot be easy from anyone’s perspective.  Their actions toward their children were kind, generous, accepting, and loving.  Their only wish was to ease their children’s burdens, when they were in the midst of grief, estate dissolution, selling the home, travel, etc.

These are two very fortunate children to have everything spelled out for them when a time of crisis occurs.  I should know, as Anne and Bill are my parents!  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for loving us that much!

© 2009 Julie Hall

Seniors, their children, stuff, and grief

In my work of helping seniors appraise the worth of their personal property, or liquidating it, I have seen examples of unsavory human behavior during the process.  This comes from family, friends, neighbors, or strangers. 

In dealing with a lifetime accumulation of stuff, seniors are often at a vulnerable place in their lives and daunted by the task.  That’s when predators appear, driven by insensitive greed and persuasive powers.  These unscrupulous mischief makers could be stopped in their tracks if only the senior had the knowledge of how much their personal property was worth.   They should also proactively create a master list of what they perceive to be treasures – either sentimental or financial.

When seniors have avoided making these choices by doing nothing for their estate planning and distribution, they are actually making a decision with dire consequences.  I always recommend that seniors distribute their treasures personally now, or in writing for distribution at death.  When the gift is personally made, however, they have the satisfaction of seeing the joy on the face of the recipient!

If a personal transaction is not done, then the next best thing is to write down who gets what on a master list.  This master list should be kept safely with the will.  Both documents will almost always minimize family disputes and exploitation.

Problems generate when the children or close relatives are burdened with dealing with the death of the senior, the pressure of dealing with the estate, and the overwhelming task of disposing of the personal property.  Seniors who recognize their own responsibility in this matter and make the decisions themselves are practicing the best defense against family quarrels or exploitation in any guise!

© 2009 Julie Hall

Who is the Estate Lady?

The Estate Lady is a fitting name for my company.  I am the company — a mixture of compassionate advocate, honest rescuer, detailed organizer, wise advisor, certified expert in personal property worth, and observer of human behavior.

I’ve always treasured older adults!  Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed many situations when seniors are blatently taken advantage of, when it comes to both their money and their personal belongings.  That’s why I paired my love of appraising personal property with dismantling households and channeling accumulated life treasures into the most appropriate way to benefit their owners.

It doesn’t take seniors or their children long to discover that I know what I am doing.  My hallmark is trustworthy counsel and behavior in appraising and handling their personal property.  My clients — professionals representing seniors such as attorneys, financial advisors, accountants, and bank trust officers, children of older adults, or seniors themselves — discover that my name and my company have built a reputation of honesty and compassion in providing comprehensive personal property services.  My point of difference in this industry is that I do a total turnkey in personal property appraisal and liquidation, wiht a host of certifications that reinforce a strict code of ethics and knowledge in all my dealings.

My work is physically exhausting and sometimes sad or dangerous when liquidating and conducting estate sales.   It is detailed and precise in appraisal reporting.  But, it is always filled with passion and a sense of purpose in helping older adults.  I see the most remarkable human behavior, and often the worst behavior, in my line of work!

© 2009 Julie Hall