Conversation Starters for You and Your Parents

It is never easy to talk with your parents about future issues.  Here are some conversation starters that will make it more comfortable for you and your parents.

  • “Mom, you’ve been such a great help to me over the years.  I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
  • “Mom and Dad, sometimes I worry about you living all alone.  Are there any things we could do to help you?”
  • “Dad, when Uncle Jim passed away, his family fought for weeks over things.  Do you ever worry that Mike and I will be like that?”
  • “Ever since Mom’s stroke, I’ve been worried about your meals and things.  Are you doing all right?”
  • “Jim and I started looking closer at our retirement account, and we’d love to pick your brain about all the things we need to know about retirement.”
  • “Dad, do you ever worry about Mom if she had to go it alone without you?”

Parents, listen to your children.  And children, listen to your parents.  This is a critical conversation for all of you, and you want to make sure you communicate well.  Just like when we were kids at school, don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask questions.  Making assumptions or guessing about what the other one wants can be dangerous and lead to places you don’t want to go.  Remember what your teachers used to tell you:  there’s no such thing as a dumb question!

For more help on this and many other topics related to your aging parents and their stuff, please read my book, The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff.  It’s available from or click on the link at the right of this article.

© 2010 Julie Hall

The Irony of Heirlooms

You can count on Murphy’s Law when dealing with heirlooms and dividing estate contents — something almost always goes wrong!  I’ve had a front seat for nearly 20 years, and seen more than my share of serious feuds, estrangements, the “entitlement mentality”, and the rapid gathering of vultures and other green-eyed creatures.  Sibling rivalry, as well as tensions and emotions, are at an all-time high; the executor is generally stuck in the middle, not wanting to ruffle any feathers.

Often, certain family members will take it upon themselves to enter the estate, take what they desire, and leave everyone else in the dark and empty-handed.  We’ve all heard the scary stories.  One brother locks the other brother out of the house and takes everything in the middle of the night.  A sister helps herself to valuable jewelry without asking, or the long lost sibling who returns after 30 years to claim a chunk of the inheritance.  All of these scenarios, plus so many more, add fuel to the fire and cause decades of resentment and bitterness.

We all have a connection to this particular issue because we have either been through it, are getting ready to go through it, or are dreading the very thought of it.  Unfortunately, when a family member dies, or is approaching death, those who feel entitled come calling.  Suddenly, heirs and distant relatives surface that you didn’t know existed, and true colors shine through in various shades of green.

For what reason does this occur over and over again?  Is it because of perceived value from generations of family stories that one particular piece has tremendous monetary value?  Is it over a sentimental item, like mom’s reading glasses, a family Bible, or a wedding band?  Do people want these items because they feel the loved one who died is still close by?  Or is it plain old greed?

Here’s the irony: People are fighting over things they can’t take with them either.  We exit this world the way we came into it, with no material possessions.

Read my solution in the next blog entry below!

© 2010 Julie Hall

The Solution to the Irony of Heirlooms

We spend a lifetime collecting and caring for heirlooms, yet we rarely take the time to make a plan for them once we pass away.  We allow our children to fight over them, instead of making wish lists and talking with them about their wishes. 

Some will argue that their 3-year old grandchild will want these heirlooms thirty years from now.  If I were a betting lady, I would disagree!  The younger generations have no desire for china, silver, crystal, etc.  They prefer IKEA, Pottery Barn, and Crate and Barrel to grandmother’s “old stuff.”  Though we have fond memories of heirlooms, our homes are already too full, and 70% of our stuff we will never use.  So, let us ponder for a minute: How will our children handle our estate when our time comes? 

Planning is the key to a smoother division of property and estate settlement.

  • Enlist the assistance of an estate planning attorney.  This is no time to be frugal.
  • Choose an appropriate executor who will get it done, remain firm, and honor the decedent’s wishes.
  • Hire a personal property appraiser to ascertain what has value vs. what doesn’t.
  • Base the division of personal property on equitable distribution to keep it as fair as possible.
  • Read The Boomer Burden – Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff, perfect for clients, attorneys, heirs, and parents.

© 2010 Julie Hall

What to Notice About Your Parents’ Aging

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 to 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!

© 2009 Julie Hall

My Christmas gift to your family

This has been a growing year for me, a chance to help people understand the necessity of preparation before death, and help avoid battles over stuff after death.  I have accumulated a wealth of suggestions, gleaned from 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 the senior adults and the 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 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 little talking 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!

P.S. I welcome your comments and questions, even suggested topics, at the link below this article.

© 2009 Julie Hall