In Search Of …

Everybody is in search of something.  We search for happiness, prosperity, vitality, etc.  We search for understanding, the meaning of life, the mysteries of the universe.  We look for people and special places and a million other things – all so that our lives will be meaningful.

In all my years of working in estates, I see clients searching for something too, but many of them haven’t quite figured out what it is they are looking for.  When it comes to clearing out the estate, many of them take way too much stuff only to clutter up their own homes.  You know they will never use those items, yet they continue taking, taking.  Why do they do this?  What void are these things feebly filling, that they didn’t get from the loved one in life?

Are they searching for absolution from a lost parent, or in need of validation of who they were to the parent?  Are they angry with the deceased loved one and never got a chance to make it right?  Are they guilt-ridden?  Did they not receive enough emotional love and support from the parent-child relationship, and now take things feeling “entitled” and holding a grudge?

Things are never a replacement for people.  At the end of our lives, we can’t take these things with us anyway and they will only serve to burden our children who really don’t want the stuff from the start.

When my mother died, here’s what I took from her estate and that very painful experience:

  • I took her beautiful smile and laughter, forever etched in my memory.
  • I took her solid advice and now practice it daily.
  • I took 50 years of memories … family gatherings and good times.
  • I took photographs so I would never forget how blue her eyes were.
  • I took her common sense, good manners, and lady-like disposition, and carry them with me, among many other things.

The point I’m trying to make is that memories are not found in things.  The things you take from an estate will gather dust and be forgotten eventually.  Special memories are already in your heart if you had a good relationship with the loved one.  And if you didn’t/don’t have a good relationship, now is a really good time to try to mend old, crumbling fences.

© 2012 Julie Hall

He Who Hesitates Is Lost

There’s no doubt about it!  The market is crazy, and in my opinion, predictable due to the economy.  While mainstream media has us believing everything is getting better, some of us have an intuition that may not be the case.

Professionals in the field of personal property will tell you that the market is soft.  Prospective buyers are buying, but at lower prices than most people want to accept or believe, and the pattern of what they are buying and for how much is shifting.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the trends and feel what’s going on.  Many families are making serious mistakes when it comes to handling an estate and its contents.  Here are some examples of what I am seeing:

1.  Many cannot bear to deal with the estate from an emotional perspective, or experiencing sibling challenges, or the executor is not doing their proper job.  As a result, the estate “sits.”  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, that home becomes a sitting duck and a welcome for thieves.  Another downside is that the home itself decays.  A home is a living, breathing thing and when no one lives in it, it begins to deteriorate very rapidly and invites unwanted guests such as critters, plumbing problems, electrical issues, flooding, etc.  Next thing you know, the value of the home (and its contents) have also deteriorated.  I see this every day.

2.  Missed opportunity.  Okay, so the market isn’t so great.  But it might be better now than in the future.  Since we don’t have a crystal ball, there is no way to know what the future holds, but it isn’t looking like “top dollar” is right around the corner.  Some families are storing items, and in the long run, get tired of doing so and decide to sell at the wrong time!  They are just tired of dealing with it and who can blame them for that?

It’s important to note that many people feel if you hold onto it long enough, the value will increase.  They may think traditional dark furniture values will go back up, or depression glass will once again be en vogue.  It could happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath – at least for quite some time.

My advice?  Hold on to precious metals and extremely rare items that are authenticated by professionals.  Let the rest go and lighten up your life.

3.  Do not adore family lore.  Most of it is pieces of the truth that have been exaggerated through the years, though the stories are fascinating!  Family lore has us believing many of these pieces are worth a fortune, and more often than not, this is not the reality of the situation.

What to do?  Holding on to stuff is eventually going to be like holding on to a cactus … very uncomfortable.  It has a tendency to squeeze us into discomfort, cause family or marital strife, financial strife, family squabbles, etc.  The solution is easier than you think … just let go!  Your loved one’s memory is in your heart and mind, not in the things that weigh you down in life.  Your loved one would never want that for you.

© 2012 Julie Hall

“Would Anyone Like Some Hot Chocolate?”

It was all I could think to say with a weary smile on my face.  The tension was thick as I sat in the middle of a nasty fight between three heirs, all feeling threatened, all feeling they were just in their opinions, all throwing insults and trying to out-jab the other.  After seeing a box of hot chocolate in the kitchen, I removed myself from the boxing ring and made hot chocolate for the four of us.  I had never done anything like that before.  Something moved me to do it.

As I served the hot chocolate without saying a word, the heirs stopped bickering, fell silent and just watched, wondering “What is that Estate Lady doing?”  I calmly said, “Bet you didn’t think The Estate Lady was going to serve you hot chocolate today, did you?  That’s not really part of my job description!”

The distraction worked as everyone chuckled and it disarmed the situation long enough for me to explain why everyone was so upset.  Once I was able to mediate, it all went very smoothly, each having a clearer understanding of why the upset broke out in the first place, often caused by their own misperceptions.

As we each sipped the hot chocolate, it seemed to bring us back to frosty childhood days, bundled up so tight we couldn’t move.  Maybe it was the flavor of the chocolate, maybe it was the smell or the warmth as it traveled into our bodies to take the chill off.

Sometimes, you just need to take a little break, sit back, and sip a little hot chocolate.  It did wonders for us!

© 2011 Julie Hall

The Band-Aid Analogy

Sometimes you just don’t want to do what lies ahead of you.  The little angel on your right shoulder says you have to do it, and the little devil sitting on your left shoulder tells you to blow it off and forget about it.

This internal tug-of-war happens to each of us every day whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  But when it keeps nagging at you and occupies your every thought, it’s time for action. 

Think of the simplicity of the Band-Aid.  You cover up one of life’s little boo-boos and keep on going.  Eventually, you have to take that sticky thing off and naturally it’s fastened permanently to your arm hairs.  You know it’s going to hurt.  Maybe if you just ignore it, it will go away?  Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.  You must face it head on.

Now you have two choices with that Band-Aid:

1.  Grab hold of the end and rip it off super fast so the pain only lasts a short while, or

2.  Slowly and painfully peel it back, taking every arm hair with it.

What kind of personality do you have?  Deal with it quickly and relatively painlessly, or do it slowly, methodically, and deal with the pain?

People can be like Band-Aids.  When dealing with estate settlement, very often these two personality types will have to intermingle, and sometimes without much success.

Try to be as amiable as possible and reach a compromise.  No matter which way you look at it, it’s painful, but going through it with someone else who understands and is willing to work together as teammates somehow makes it flow easier.

© 2011 Julie Hall

Quoted on MSN Money by Liz Weston

MSN Money’s personal finance expert, Liz Weston, wrote about “How to Avoid Fights Over Mom’s Stuff.”

Thanks, Liz, for asking me to contribute to a topic that is at the heart of what I do.  This is why I wrote the book, “The Boomer Burden – Dealing With Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff” and “How to Divide Your Family’s Estate and Heirlooms Peacefully and Sensibly”. 

I want to educate people to avoid the harsh and painful reality of fighting and hurt that comes when families have to divide a parent’s possessions.  Thank you, Liz, for bringing attention to this topic with such clarity and insight. 

Welcome to those new visitors who are linking to my blog from Liz’s article.  There are over 100 weekly posts here full of valuable insights about all areas of personal property.  Check out the categories on the right, and sign up to receive my weekly blog.  While you are there, you can click directly to and order my books in either print or ebook versions.

A Case of the Grumpies

We are bombarded by tens of thousands of media messages daily.  We even have miniscule handheld gadgets and crazy fingers that fly faster than the typing secretaries we see in the old black and white movies.  As if our desktops aren’t enough, we feel the need to remain “connected” to any new technological advance, and constantly have the media in our face.  Sadly, we are exposed to all the negative energy the world has to offer.  No wonder we are so tired.

As a result of this exposure, the state of the economy, the politicians’ barrage of empty promises, financial strife, etc., we all seem a little angrier and much grumpier than we used to be.

It’s no different for those settling an estate.  Everyone feels a particular piece was sentimental only to them, or “Mom always wanted me to have that.”  Heirs go into the division of assets with the image they will always get what they want and this simply is not the case.  Arguments of what has value, differences of opinion, who-gets-what, things disappearing in the night … all of this happens because our loved ones failed to plan ahead.

Obstacles abound every way we turn.  Frustrating?  Yes.  A reason to go out into the world and make everyone miserable?  NO!

Mom always said we can make a choice how we behave out in the world and inside ourselves.  The next time you see someone walking around with the weight of the world on their back, make a choice and give them a great big smile.  It’s amazing how something so simple can have such great impact on them … and on you!

© 2011 Julie Hall

How to Behave As an Heir

Recently, I did a podcast for Moving Forward Matters in Ottawa, Canada.  Here’s the link to my 10 minute discussion on Estate Etiquette.

Here are several suggestions for how to behave as an heir in the estate of your parent or close loved one.

  1. Sit down and say what’s on your mind.  Beating around the bush confuses everyone.  Confrontation is not necessarily a bad thing.  My father always said that the day after a thunderstorm is usually clean, bright, and beautiful.  It clears the air and so does a confrontation that is more about sharing than finger pointing. 
  2. It’s vital to do everything you can to keep the peace.  To avoid heartache and resentment, do your best to take the “high road.”  It feels good to do so, though it’s not always easy.
  3. Validate the other person’s feelings if they share them with you.  At least, listen.  Repeat what they said to you so they feel you heard them.  Both should agree to simply do the best you can to smooth it over somehow.  A photo of Mom and Dad sitting in front of you wouldn’t hurt.  After all, this is about honoring them and not about the heirs.
  4. Encourage others to be a part of the healing process, if they would like to be.  It is not about taking sides.  It is about encouraging both parties to do what they can to heal the hurt.  Always remain objective and try very hard to see the other side.  

Dividing heirlooms can be one of the most contentious experiences of our adult lives.  There is no way to completely eliminate family squabbles.  But, you can learn to put them out when they are smoldering, instead of when they grow into a full-blown forest fire.

© 2011 Julie Hall

“Are Co-Executors a Good Idea?”

Q:  I have two grown daughters who get along well, and treat me with great care and respect.  Now that my husband has passed away, I need to update my will.  I am considering both my daughters to be co-executors.  Is this a good idea or not, Julie?  What do you suggest?

A.  Have you ever noticed that there are those who are very good at making decisions and those who couldn’t make a decision if their life depended on it?  While these are two extreme examples, everyone is somewhere between those two extremes – a mixed bag of opinions, emotions, thoughts, feelings, theories, etc.  You never know what you’re going to get when you add different moods and personalities to the mix.

Even when you know someone very well, the tide can easily turn when one is grieving and handling an estate, which is a very stressful situation.  The slow and steady brother suddenly rears up and causes strife which you did not expect.  The quiet, reclusive sister becomes the chronic complainer to the point of estrangement.  Another sister is refusing to move out of the home, causing major financial problems for the family.  Finally, the long-lost baby brother no one has heard from in years surfaces, demanding his share.

One executor is difficult enough, for they can never make everyone happy and are always the target.  Having co-executors is not often recommended by legal professionals for these reasons:  differences of opinion, geographically remote from the location of the estate, one can easily cause trouble, the other can drag out the sale of the estate against the family’s wishes.  You name it and I’ve seen it!

I think many people choose co-executors because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  In the end after they leave this earth, the hurt, pain, and grief that their decision has caused can be unbearable.

Bottom line: Think long and hard before assigning co-executors.  It may be best to assign this role to someone who is completely objective, rather than either of your daughters.

© 2011 Julie Hall

A Slice of Birthday Cake with Roses on Top

Remember when we were little kids and our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, when we saw the thick, sugary icing and special colored roses on our birthday cake?  Everyone fought over those colorful, sugary roses that contained enough fuel to shoot us to the moon and back, or at least until midnight when the sugar buzz finally wore off.  We were probably 5 or 6 years old, but already we had learned a lesson that would follow us throughout our lives.

The voice in our heads beckoned us to eat as much as possible including all of those coveted roses — after all, it’s my cake, my birthday.  Why shouldn’t I have it all to myself?  Mother’s quiet, yet serious tone forced me to share, and share equally among the other children at the party.  “You have to be fair to everyone,” she would say.  It isn’t fair, I thought to myself.  That’s my cake!  I should have all of the slices of cake with the roses on them.  (The roses were, and still are, my favorite.)

So it is with much of life.  We all want the “roses” in life and that includes our loved one’s estates.  You’ve had your eye on that grandfather clock, or mom’s diamond ring, or dad’s fishing lure collection for years.  And you believe you are entitled to them, or perhaps they were promised to you long ago, so you just assume they will be yours one day.  Then that “one day” comes, and your sibling claims the same thing … the trouble begins.

Until they are gifted to you in person prior to infirmity or death, or until there is a written plan for those heirlooms upon a loved one’s passing, you are entitled to nothing unless it is given to you.  Even if you don’t end up with your beloved “rose,” we must remember that while we would like to have the majority of the cake, it is good and appropriate to share equally.

You taught me well, Mom!

© 2011 Julie Hall

How to Prevent Conflict Between Adult Children

A colleague in Canada invited me to create several podcasts for her website at Moving Forward Matters, Ottawa Home Transition Specialists.  

The first one is titled, “How to Prevent Conflict Between Adult Children Before A Loved One Dies.”  Here’s the link to the podcast:

My greatest goal is to educate people and prepare them for the inevitable challenges of family members dealing with personal property accumulated over a lifetime.  There are ways for parents (not just elderly parents) to prepare their children to deal with these possessions equitably, thereby avoiding years of hard feelings, sibling battles, court fights, and other ugly situations.

I hope you’ll listen to this podcast and then pass along a link to another family member or friend who may benefit from this advice.  Remember, it’s not too early to simplify your possessions and create equitable plans for your children and grandchildren to follow.

© 2011 Julie Hall