The Expense of “Free”

Everyone is trying to pinch pennies.  But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t send up a warning to be extra careful if something is “free.”  A “free” something will almost always lead to strings attached or something expensive coming later, like a repair, further services of some sort, or worst … it could be a scam.  In the professional world, “free” is used to attract you and extract your personal information so they can use it to get money out of you for something else.  Here in the 21st century, your information can also be used against you in the cyber world.

A Positive Thumbs Up Sign

It is equally important to realize that paying for a valued service versus a free service does have its differences.  A free service (such as an estimate, consultation, product, etc.) will only provide you with a fraction of the information, leaving you hanging for more, but then you will have to pay for it, often in more ways than one.  A paid service will get the job done to completion the first time, if you choose the right professional.

Everyone is always attracted to “free” but should we be?

My late father had a saying, “If it’s free, take two.”  He was a Depression baby.  I am not.  This is the thought process of many people.  But no, I will not take “two” because I don’t want to clutter up my home with things my child won’t want one day, and I don’t want right now.  I won’t do that to my family.

What possible trouble could “free” cause?

Let’s take a closer look at the repercussions…

  • What if something goes wrong?
  • What if the service or information is inaccurate?  Where does the liability lie?
  • What if you get hurt, someone else gets hurt, or property (such as your home) gets damaged?
  • What if they don’t complete the job, or the job goes for months with no accountability?
  • What if you dislike the results or get really bad information?
  • What if you hired family, friends, or neighbors?  That relationship will never be the same.
  • And finally, what is your recourse if no money changed hands?

Many times, people have ulterior motives for offering something for free.  Not always, but a good bit of the time, it’s true, even in my own industry (as well as every other industry).

“Free” is never free.  It just sounds good.  Free can mean hasty mistakes, and free can mean costly mistakes.  Sometimes free can be very expensive.

©2014 The Estate Lady®

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

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

Did You Say “Cockroaches?”

The voice on the phone was very shaky and distressed.  Through her tears, I heard her say, “Doing business with people in your industry is like doing business with cockroaches.”  A knife to my gut would have hurt less.  Those words were truly cutting and very upsetting to those of us in the industry who put our hearts and souls into assisting our clients.

This woman called my office to complain about an estate sale company, one which was completely unfamiliar.  I own and direct The American Society of Estate Liquidators® and complaints regarding our members, who uphold a Code of Ethics, are minimal.  When a complaint is made on our members, usually it is easily remedied, like replacing a widget that was accidentally sold.

Phone calls like this woman’s are starting to come in at an alarming rate, and the complaints are serious.  So serious, some of them are criminal in nature, and law enforcement and the court system become involved.

For someone like me who has done my best to pave the way for ethics, integrity, and high standards in the estate sale business, this is a massive black eye.  It hurts personally.  Some of the customer complaints include not getting paid after a sale is completed.  Liquidator complaints include clients who pull items from a sale, during the sale, when they see how low the prices are and don’t want to pay the liquidator’s imposed fees.

I could never defend estate sale professionals who run an unethical business and cause these people to fall to pieces emotionally.  This is not why the “good ones” went into the business.

We went into business to make a positive difference in the lives of our clients.  We strive to uplift them and their emotional turmoil.

However, I will defend the good estate sale professionals who work from a thorough contract, have explained everything to the client with the client’s agreement, and simply do their best to get the highest proceeds from the sale.

The estate sale professional has the right to earn a good living; the work is back-breaking, disassembling a lifetime of accumulation in just a few short days.  In some cases, the clients expect far too much.  They have not yet awakened to the fact that our economy is weak, despite what the news is promising.

The estate sale professional has the right to charge a fees or commission for items clients give away, take or remove from the sale, even though the clients have signed a contract that they will not do so.  This is taking income from the professional.  This leaves them with egg on their face when the public arrives and screams at them because advertised items are gone.  This is simply not fair.

Courtesy goes both ways!

When searching for an estate sale professional, or any professional service, the responsibility falls on the consumer to research them thoroughly and interview several.

Ask associates and business owners, such as estate planning attorneys and realtors, in your community.  Check Angie’s List and BBB.  Check professional organizations, if they belong to them.  Check references.  Do your due diligence.  Then you will select an estate sale professional who will do a wonderful job for you … not a “cockroach.”

©2014 The Estate Lady®

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

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

Franklin Got the Mint – Susie Got the Shaft

Meeting with a mid-age female client this week was an eye-opening experience.  Her mother was still living and in a facility, and the daughter was in the midst of starting her life over again in her 50s.  The daughter was struggling because her mother was financially strapped; the daughter now supports the mother and the heavy costs of her ongoing care.  Facing unemployment herself, she is carrying a burden of monumental proportions.

I was called over to her home to see if there was anything of value that could be sold to keep up with the costs of mom’s care.  The daughter’s home was filled with Franklin Mint, Bradford Exchange, Hummel collectibles, Lenox collectibles, Fenton, and any other collectible you can think of that today has very little value.  Never mind, these plates cost $39.95 each or more, at the time mom bought them all for her daughter.  On Ebay, they sell for $3.99 if they sell at all these days.  All of the companies mass-produced these items and mom thought that her daughter could retire on them one day, because she was certain they would be extremely valuable.

Mom spent all of her money on these things that are not only undesirable on the market to most, but they have also cluttered up the daughter’s home.  You could see the anger and sadness on her face that “mom bought all of this #*&@# and now she’s broke.”

“Do you have any idea how much money she would have today if she didn’t buy this stuff?  Now I can barely make ends meet with her expenses and mine, and I am worried I will get laid off.”

I am not blaming the companies, but it’s worth saying that I see this frequently.  They were incredibly smart with their marketing and everyone in mom’s generation felt these collectibles could only go UP in value.  But let’s look at it from this perspective … If it’s such a great deal, why would they let tens of millions in on it?

Mom had the best of intentions but she just kept buying against her daughter’s will.  The daughter asked her to stop and she didn’t.  She bought all of it thinking her daughter could retire on these items one day.  Instead, her daughter is working very hard to keep her mother’s care afloat, and having to make grueling decisions on putting mom in a place that offers less care, less amenities, less enjoyment, less everything.  This too weighs heavily on the child.  The best of intentions went sour in this case.

Moral to the story:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Stick to what you know; stick to time-tested sources of wealth preservation, such as jewelry, gold, silver, etc.  Always use your gut instinct and stay away from the TV shopping channels.  If you want to leave a powerful legacy for your children, make a plan for your future and set an example for them to follow, when they get to that point in their lives.  The best gift a parent can ever give a child is a well-thought out plan for the final chapter in their lives.

©2014 The Estate Lady®

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

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

Mr. Lee and Mr. McGee

When I close my eyes and remember the times with Mr. Lee and Mr. McGee, it doesn’t seem so long ago.  In reality, it was over half a lifetime ago when these two older gentlemen helped sculpt me into The Estate Lady® I would eventually become.  Way back in my mid-20s, I discovered quite by accident that I had a knack for buying and selling antiques.  While it was a risk at such a young age, newly out of college and on a strict budget, I decided to commit to renting a booth in an upscale antique mall for six months.  It just so happened it was their upscale antique mall.

As each week passed, I noticed more and more of the items I was selling were gone from the glass case, so naturally I was thrilled they were selling.  Little did I know that two of the owners of this vast and expensive mall were watching me.  One day, as I finished putting more new items into my glass case, Mr. Lee and Mr. McGee approached me and asked if we could talk.

As an extrovert, I rarely meet a stranger, yet I was intimidated by these two who had accomplished so much in life.  Both had been in the business over 40 years.  Both were successful; both knew so much.  Here I was, knowing very little, being steered by gut instinct only, and feeling like a little mouse wondering what they could possibly want from young, inexperienced me.

They took me to their finely furnished office, offered me a beverage, and watched me squirm in the big leather chair.  You can imagine the thoughts racing through my head!  Mr. Lee was a kind older man, born in Hong Kong, but raised here in the United States.  Mr. McGee was an older southern gentleman.  They began the conversation by complimenting me on my booth and wondering where I found my treasures.  After a nice and comfortable time together, they sincerely took me under their wings and shared some invaluable insight I will never forget, that I would like to share with you.

Here’s what they said to me:

“Kid, you were born with the eye.  Very few people are born with this gift.  So when you go out into the world and use it, you need to use it well and earn it.  Much will be asked of you through the years and you will be tested at every turn.  But always remember to walk a straight line.  If you can walk this straight line, people will talk about you.  They will refer others to you.  They will love you for what you can do for them, because they are completely overwhelmed.  Remember this conversation because it will make your or break you.”

Now in my 50s, I think back to that time and realize that little meeting with them was a tremendous gift to me.  A gift of guidance and affirmation.  A gift of direction and how I can serve my clients.  Hindsight is an incredible thing when all the pieces click together.  They were right on all accounts.  Much has been asked of me in the last 25 years, and I did my best to always deliver.  Temptation is everywhere, but I steered far away from it.  Honesty and ethics are always at the forefront.  Because so few possess it, I stood out among them.  Old fashioned and 19th century thinking?  Perhaps, but it’s the secret to my success.

From that moment to this, I never forgot what they told me.  Both of them are gone now, but they left an impressionable young lady with something she could never pay for, because it was priceless.

From the beginning of time, there has always been good and evil.  In today’s society, we need to be extra careful of the professionals we select to help us, whether it’s handling an estate or remodeling a bathroom.  Always look for someone who walks a straight line.  Always listen for the good people say about them.  Research these business owners who mean to serve you.  Make sure they are credible, professional, and the cream of the crop.

Why would you settle for anything less?

©2014 The Estate Lady®

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

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

How Did You Become “The Estate Lady?”

It is a question I am asked often; each time I have to smile to myself, knowing the course of events that transpired to get me into the estate business and evolve with it.  Allow me to preface this by saying I don’t think I chose “it”.  I think “it” chose me.

Wilma was 103 years old.  While I had dabbled in the buying and selling of antiques back then (25 years ago), she had heard about me and invited me over for advice on what to do with her beautiful European residential contents upon her death.  She said she was “ready for the hole” which I found amazingly blunt, but she was honest and genuinely worried about her things, as to not be a burden to anyone once she was gone.  She had outlived her husband and children.  We agreed I would return in a couple of weeks to discuss options, etc.

Upon my return, her beautiful home looked like a carnival had just trampled through it.  You can imagine my horror when it was clear to see that her neighbors and so-called friends came over and helped themselves, breaking fine rare German figurines in the process and leaving debris behind for her to clean up.  They had purchased her sterling, antique furniture, antique clocks, etc. from her for a dollar, $5, a few bucks here and there, and her possessions were worth a small fortune … tens of thousands at that time.

It was, for me, a moment of truth – an epiphany, if you will – about the inner workings of human nature.  Truly, I was disgusted by what I saw, and felt both a deep sorrow for her, as well as a disdain for the people who had done this to her.  How could they do that?  We’re supposed to protect those who can’t protect themselves.  From my best recollection, I lifted a silent prayer thinking about all the Wilma’s out there that needed advocates, to protect them from these unscrupulous people who knew her for decades and still totally took advantage of her, with little regard for their actions.  It was unconscionable.

She asked me if she had been taken advantage of, and I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Yes.  I am afraid so.”  She nodded, knowing what had really happened and thanked me for my honesty.  What she said next was what led me to this industry and to my life’s calling.  “We old folks really need an estate lady like you!”  And right there, sitting on her remaining green velvet antique sofa, the light bulb went off and I received my life’s instructions.  “The Estate Lady” was born.  I quit a cushy pharmaceutical job and went to work for myself, figuring if I was working this hard for them, I might as well work this hard for myself.  It was a tremendous leap of faith.

From that moment to this, there have been many, many obstacles, plenty of tears for what I see in the industry (both good and bad), lots of sweat equity and even blood spilled due to its physical demands.  My back is riddled with arthritis and my once beautiful hands show the signs of hard work.  BUT … I’ve never once looked back.  I’ve never regretted a thing.  I am not rich, but in so many ways I am, because my clients allowed me into their lives.  They shared their secrets and pain, and somehow, no matter how small or large, my compassion, skills, and presence made a difference in their lives.  That is what allows me sleep like a baby every night, knowing I have served so many to the best of my ability.  It is the driving force of my spirit.

If you know someone interested in pursuing this industry, share this link with them:  They can expect lots of hard work with little glamour.  But if they are looking for a career in an industry that serves so many, and are willing to work hard and earn a decent income, it becomes a win-win.

Not everyone is cut out to do this kind of work.  It takes the kindness and compassion of a minister, combined with the grit of John Wayne.  If this sounds like you, I would encourage you to explore it.

I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life!

©2013 The Estate Lady®

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

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

Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth is a Thankless Child

(Literal meaning: It is especially painful to raise an ungrateful child.)

Shakespeare really understood human nature, tragic as it can be sometimes.  From his King Lear in 1605, he writes about the pain of a thankless child.

Here’s my hair-raising story:

In an estate I was handling, I was privy to a situation that made my stomach turn.  It still blows my mind!  After all these years, certain situations still get to me … because I care.

Before an elderly parent died, knowing what her children were like, she assigned a trusted friend to be the executor.  The children were estranged, yet greedy.  I cannot comprehend how a child can be estranged, yet still feel they are entitled to an inheritance.  As I have often written in my books, we are entitled to nothing unless it is given to us.  But that’s just my opinion.  It seemed this parent left nothing to the children, save the personal property.  And the hunger games began … literally.

Among the siblings, it became an epic battle of name calling, expert manipulation, grabbing possessions just to spite the other, take as much as they could to sell for cash, and even physical assault.  Besides shaking my head in disbelief, a pitiful thought enters my mind: These behaviors in no way honored the decedent.  Self-centered, disrespectful, discourteous, greedy, bratty …

I wouldn’t want to be around when the karma train pays them a visit.

This parent exited life knowing her children were like that.  Even in death, they pathetically displayed every behavior that shouldn’t be allowed.  This parent lived and died with disappointment and sadness, knowing the kids were like this.  She did what she could from a planning perspective and put someone else in charge of the estate; this was a smart move.  Was this a good parent?  Who knows?  There are two sides to every story, but the kids should at least be respectful in death.

All of these children are middle age which means they are old enough to know better.  They were angry that the parent had the last laugh, so to speak, and hit her in the wallet where it hurt.  This was not  a case of loving and missing a parent so much that they wanted select items for sentimental reasons.

I watched as they stripped this once beautiful home like a school of piranhas would strip a cow bone.  The only emotion was anger.

Lessons I’ve learned from my work:

  1. Do your best to always be genuine, kind, respectful, and loving.
  2. Turn your cheek and bite your tongue often.
  3. Bad behavior can invade your soul, so don’t allow it.
  4. Bad behavior is contagious, so don’t allow it.
  5. Honor those who go before you, and then one day, you’ll be honored too.
  6. Bring as much “light” as you can to the situation.  People can get lost in the dark during estate settlement situations.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Senior Scams are in Full Swing

… And it’s going to get worse!

Boomer children, be warned.  While the poor economy is definitely a huge culprit when it comes to senior scams, we also need to face the fact that many people out there are indescribably unscrupulous, earning money to hurt the ones you love.  I’ve often wondered how these people sleep at night and live with themselves, but I have come to realize these scam artists don’t seem to have much of a conscience.

Since I have had several blog followers ask me to write about the scams that have robbed their loved ones in many different ways, I want to shed light on what our seniors are going through, that often as children we don’t see … or don’t want to see.  The phone rings and it’s a friendly voice the elderly person is attracted to.  Our elderly relative might be lonely or soft-hearted and give information they shouldn’t give to the stranger.  Sadly, they are of a generation that may not fully recognize the impact of the world wide web and its power.  The stroke of a finger on a keyboard could mean financial devastation to them, and their personal information is spread around the world in an instant, never to be retrieved.

The telemarketers prey on them, promising a lottery, other forms of a windfall, and free stuff.  There is no “free.”  It all comes at a price.  We must also take into consideration that many of our relatives suffer from dementia, and the effects it has on their logic and reasoning.  In some cases, they don’t know any better, or they are just sweet-natured and gullible.  Some even buy things from TV home shopping channels just to have social interaction with the customer service rep on the phone and the UPS man when he drops off their purchases.

These are some of the things I see, but the National Council on Aging has this to say about senior scams:

  • All seniors are targeted, both low income as well as high income, because it is perceived they have plenty of money saved.
  • Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others. (Wow, this is really sad!)

Their top 10 list of senior scams:

For more details on each, go to: Top 10 Senior Scams

  1. Health Care / Medicare / Health Insurance Fraud
  2. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs
  3. Funeral & Cemetery scams
  4. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products
  5. Telemarketing
  6. Internet Fraud
  7. Investment Schemes
  8. Homeowner / Reverse Mortgage scams
  9. Sweepstakes and Lottery scams
  10. The Grandparent scam

Also, consider contacting your local Better Business Bureau for senior scams  in your area, and how they can be avoided.  Make sure to place your elderly loved one’s phone number on the National “Do Not Call” Registry. Registry

While scammers still do call, it is done less frequently.  Remind them your number is on the “Do Not Call” list.

Please do your research, and do everything in your power to protect your loved one!

© 2012 Julie Hall

Literal Gold Diggers

When I think of a gold digger, my mind conjures up two images: 1) an 1800’s scruffy old man panning for gold, and 2) The Housewives of Beverly Hills, Atlanta, or wherever.  In the old days, a gold digger was someone who ransacked the graveyards stealing gold from the deceased.  In my world of estates, I see a different kind of gold digger; one that you won’t know exists until a loved one dies or takes seriously ill.

We see estates literally ransacked, like a bunch of coyotes rummaged through the place.  Boxes that once sat neatly in the attic and closets are ripped open and left in a jumbled mess, opened with contents spilling out.  Closets are left with clothes not on hangers, but in a huge heap on the floor!  Kitchen cupboards are askew and I guarantee the silver is long gone.  It would appear they left no stone unturned.  Were they looking for gold, silver, or cold, hard cash?

What is this incessant need for people to take stuff and help themselves?

I call them Mr. Pilfer and Miss Pickpocket.  They come in, often under cover of the darkness, and things disappear, never to be found again.  Is it greed, the entitlement mentality, or just a lack of care and consideration for the memory of the loved one?

I have come to the conclusion, after talking with dozens of executors, that one of the problems is there are too many keys floating around.  One of the first things I recommend is changing the locks to protect the contents until they are inventoried and/or valuated.  Another thorn in the executor’s paw is that sometimes they will tell the family and extended members that “Uncle Joe was known for his cash stashes, guns, gold coins, etc.”

This just happened in the estate I was working in.  The executor, thinking he was being honest and open with everyone, told the family there was cash in the house.  You know what happened next?  Ransack city.

Sometimes, the executor won’t even know there are valuables or cash, but other family members suspect there is money in the estate.  It is the executor’s responsibility to protect what is in the estate!  No one should go in until all is established and ready to be divided according to the will (if there is one).  Hopefully, the executor is honest!

Moral of the story:  Loose talk makes valuables walk.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Vulnerable Parents Can Protect Themselves

If you read last week’s blog, this title sounds like a contradiction to that article.  Read on, and you’ll understand how parents can protect themselves and prepare their belongings for distribution without exploitation.

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.  Parents should use professional appraisers to valuate their possessions now, adding the appraiser’s report to the master list, to protect from unscrupulous people, either inside the family or from outside.

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!

© 2012 Julie Hall

Protect Your Vulnerable Parents

Your parents, especially those who live alone, are vulnerable to scams and schemes for three reasons.  First, seniors tend to be trusting.  They also may be lonely and sometimes distant from those who can protect them.  Senior parents are also vulnerable because they worry about their financial security.  Finally, scammers know that many seniors have money and valuable possessions.

Even though approximately 50 percent of elderly Americans are victims of financial exploitation, only 10 to 15 percent of the abuses are reported.

The following may indicate that your parents are being victimized:

  * Sudden bank account changes, especially an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money
  * Unfamiliar long-distance telephone numbers, especially from overseas, on their monthly bill
  * Significantly lower standard of living (change in eating and shopping habits; unable to afford things they once afforded)
  * Selling higher-end items such as furniture, antiques, and so on
  * Sudden disappearance of valuable possessions
  * Increase in commercial or junk mail
  * Sudden change in behavior; symptoms of depression or anxiety
  * Increased worries over money

Your parents protected you when you were young with advice and example.  Look both ways before crossing the street, never speak to strangers, and a host of other suggestions were meant to protect you.  Sadly, our parents reach a point where they need us to protect them!

Here are six suggestions to protect your parents from scams and schemes:

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 (

3. Discuss with them the list of common frauds listed above.  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: and

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

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

© 2012 Julie Hall