What’s in Your Plan?

We all know we need to plan ahead for a time when we won’t be able to speak for ourselves.  A crisis can occur at any time, regardless of age or current health.  Sadly, it can happen in the blink of an eye.  In my career of handling estates, I have seen young clients pass away suddenly, as well as crisis situations occur with our elderly loved ones who fall, have a stroke, or can no longer care for themselves.  So much can happen; if we are honest, we simply choose not to seriously think about these issues until they are upon us.  Sometimes, that is too late.

When your time comes to an end. A scroll of a Last Will & Testament, tied with a black ribbon on a mahogany desk, with pocket watch set to midnight: the end of time.

Have you thought ahead to make a plan for your cherished possessions, or at least gift them prior to passing away?  I encourage everyone to make a plan and put it in a legal document.  Write an addendum to your Will, or place certain items in a Trust if they are special to you.  An estate planning attorney can help you put these documents together fairly quickly.  Put these documents in a safe place, discussing the contents with the executor.  The attorney will keep a copy.  Let a close, trusted friend know what you are doing and where the originals are kept.

Things to think about:

  • Plan for special possessions.  It is not realistic to think our kids will want all of our possessions.  First, find out what they would like to have, then have those items appraised for fair market value.  Create a “wish list” and keep it equitable; leave guidance on who gets what.  It’s all spelled out in my book, “The Boomer Burden”, available at online booksellers.
  • Plan for your animals should you pre-decease them.  We adore our furry and feathered family but rarely do we make a plan for them.  This leaves them in limbo.  It’s not fair to them or the loved ones left behind to make painful decisions.
  • Consider gifting while living.  This minimizes future feuding and cuts down on challenging issues when the children/heirs have to divide the estate.  Seeing the joy on the recipient’s face is an added bonus!
  • Make sure someone knows the location of all private files, passwords, keys, titles, deeds, safe deposit boxes, safe combination.  This information should be entrusted to your executor (someone you trust implicitly).  Note: Multiple executors can often mean more complications and differences of opinions!

I have clients right now who put together a “master binder” of all the things we are discussing here, including written directions on where private documents can be found, such as social security card, Medicare information, life insurance policy, original Will/Trust, etc.  They prepaid their own funerals.  They asked me to write current appraisals for their furnishings, collectibles, and jewelry, and have made copies for each child.  They were even nice enough to direct their children to me when they pass away, to handle the contents of their home, since all their heirs are long distance.  Quite literally, they left a “Guidance System” for their children.  How wonderful!

Think ahead to special possessions you have received and collected over your life.  While no one can make plans for everything in their home, make plans for these valuable items now so no one can feud over them later.  When the decision is made ahead of time, you’ve simplified the life of your executor.

©2016 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.

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

6 Big Mistakes People Make with Personal Property

Personal property and heirlooms — we spend a lifetime accumulating them, inheriting them, caring for them, collecting them, and talking about them.  But we rarely know the values and we rarely make a plan for what happens to our personal property.

Here’s my list of the biggest mistakes.  Hopefully, you don’t see yourself in this list.

1.  Parents don’t share final wishes with their children.  They don’t share vital documents, especially the will/trust, or at least tell the children where they are located.

Children are then left to guess the parent’s wishes, which is a very bad thing.  Children live with guilt for the remainder of their lives, wondering if their “guess” was what mom and dad would have wanted.  What a heavy load to carry!

2.  Parents don’t make a plan for personal property.  They don’t create a master list, or ask what the heirs would like to have.  They definitely don’t gift any of their possessions while they are still alive.

3.  Parents know that death and infirmity will certainly come, but they do nothing to anticipate or minimize fighting after they are gone.

4.  Children have opposite opinions because the parents didn’t tell their wishes to the children.  This starts fights and feuds that can last for the remainder of their lives.

5.  Children are hasty with parents’ possessions.  Heirlooms with significant value can end up in a dumpster or yard sale.  They decline to hire a professional to ascertain what’s valuable before distribution and disposal.

6.  Chilren have a tendency to give away, throw away, or donate before they know the worth of those items.  Be leary of unscrupulous people who ask for a “memento” and go for the most valuable item, which you may or may not have valuated.

Did you see yourself in this list?  If so, now is the time to take action and resolve these issues.  As I’ve said before, you don’t want to become one of The Estate Lady’s sad stories!

© 2010 Julie Hall

How to Find the Best Executor for your Estate

If there is truly a job that no one wants, it has to be the Executor of an estate.  Being the executor requires great time and effort, and it is usually a thankless job.

Mom and Dad, if you are choosing an executor, here are some suggestions,  First, I recommend that you select an executor who is up to the challenge, not advanced in age, not a procrastinator, and someone who will have your best interests at heart.  Heirs or your children who will receive from the estate are not usually the best choice. 

Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings when you make your choice.  This is your estate and it must be handled in a manner that is comfortable to you.  To do the job well, the executor must put your desires and wishes before anything else.

Help your executor out while you are still living.  Prepare your important papers, like your last will and testament, and make sure your executor knows where to find the papers.  Be sure to keep them updated every few years.

Besides your important legal papers, does your family know your last wishes?  Do they know how you wish to distribute your belongings?  Be sure that specific bequests are spelled out in your last will and testament.  If you want Susie to receive your china, and you want Frank to receive your books, create a master list of these items to store with your important papers. 

Better yet, why not “gift” your possessions while you are still alive?  You’ll have the pleasure of seeing the joy on your heirs’ faces when they receive that piece of jewelry or collectible they have always wanted.  You’ll also reap the benefit of saving your children from struggles and feuds after you pass away.

© 2010 Julie Hall

6 Practical Ways to Help Your Parents This Fall

Now that the weather is cooling and the leaves are ready to fall, here are 6 practical ways that you can assist your elderly parents.

  1. Help your parents protect all their assets.  Know all the professionals they work with, i.e. CPA, financial planner, attorney, etc.
  2. Know the location of all their important documents.  If the documents are in a locked cabinet or fireproof storage, know where the keys are kept.
  3. Have the important conversations with them about their wishes for the future, who will be their executor, healthcare power of attorney, and discuss distribution of the heirlooms and personal property.
  4. You can’t take it with you!  If they are able, suggest to your parents that they write a master list of who should get what, and give the document to the executor.  Or, they can ask each child what they would like to have, and put that on a “wish list”.  A document cuts down on the “he said-she said” that often goes on when settling an estate.
  5. Start de-cluttering and thinning out your parents’ home now.  Often children are overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” in their Depression Era parents’ home.  This is a good way to begin the process of cleaning out, so you won’t have to do it all at once later.  Make sure you have their permission.
  6. Always come from a place of love.  You will have several difficult conversations and awkward moments when asking your parents these questions.  Always approach them with love.  For example, “Mom, we are very worried about you and would like to have a talk about what you would like for your future.  Sue and I would like to honor your wishes, but first, we need to know what those wishes are.”

For more practical tips and compassionate advice, read my best-selling book, The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff.  Check the right side of my blog for a link to order both my books.

© 2010 Julie Hall

My Sibling is the Problem

This week, I’m answering another great question from a reader.

Q:  I am the executor of my mother’s estate.  There are 4 children and one of them is being problematic, even accusing me of things I haven’t done and have no intention of doing.  Is there something I can do to help this situation, because she is not speaking with me and causing everyone great distress?  She wants everything in Mom’s house that is valuable and is not willing to share.  Mom specified everything be split 4 ways equally.  Any help would be appreciated!

A:  In my profession, I see this more often than I would like to admit.  Sometimes the glue of the family begins to disintegrate once both parents pass away.  If one sibling is being difficult, he or she is really calling out for some type of assistance, and it requires great patience and grace to get to the root of the problem.  In some cases, the difficulty can lie in a form of guilt or resentment that this sibling is feeling.  Perhaps they never got the chance to make something right with the loved one before their passing, or felt cheated during their life by the one who just died.  Envy can also play an important role in the behavior of siblings during this difficult time.

Here’s what to do to help this situation.  Write each sibling a letter as the executor.  Share with them the feelings and fears you have about this situation.  Be honest and direct and encourage a family meeting.  Offer each sibling the opportunity to speak, one at a time.  Ask the problematic sibling to tell you what they desire and why.   What would make them feel better?  Really listen to each other.

Have an appraiser evaluate the contents of the home before anything is removed.   Keep a spreadsheet for each sibling and what they would like to have.  Make certain each takes approximately the same financial amount, based on the appraisal.  If one has considerably less assets, make up for it with cash assets, if all siblings agree.  Select items in mom’s house in order of birth and then reverse the order to make it fair, or draw names out of a hat.

Being an executor is probably the most difficult task you might ever experience.  It will test the core of your being!  Lead with your heart, keep compassion on the forefront of your mind to remain fair and objective, and most of all, honor your mother’s memory by being respectful of her and her lifelong possessions.  This is about your mother’s wishes, not your sibling’s!

© 2010 Julie Hall

A Word About Blended Families

Today, I’m answering a question from a reader.

Q: We have a blended family with grown children that are my husband’s, mine, and ours together.  We are long retired, the children are grown, and we know it is time to make some serious decisions about our estate and division of heirlooms.  For years, two of our children have been bickering over one piece in particular.  Naturally we want to be fair, but I think our biggest concern is if one of the children gets an heirloom that doesn’t really belong to them because they are not from that side of the family.  How can we handle this delicately?

A: About 40% of my clients have challenges with their blended family and personal property distribution.  Here are a few basic guidelines; stick with these.

Though children grow into adults, they still need our guidance.  At this stage, it is vital that you provide your children with precise directions for the time of your death.  Offer your children your last wishes, documents regarding heirlooms, Last Will and Testament, Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney, etc.  An attorney can help you prepare these documents, which are absolutely necessary.

As for heirlooms, engage in a frank discussion with your husband first.  Pull out a notepad and write down all of your decisions regarding all of your children and what you think each one should have.  Remember, if you do this for one child, you must do it for all of them.  It might be wise to enlist the help of an appraiser/personal property expert to help you ascertain the values of these possessions to keep the distribution financially equivalent for each child.

Keep a spreadsheet naming each child, then list the heirlooms that belong to each “bloodline”.  Next, call a family meeting with you, your husband, and your children only — No spouses of the children should be present.  It is best to do this in person, otherwise, make individual phone calls.  Share with your children your wishes and that you have documented who gets what and their current monetary values.

Make sure each child gets a copy of this document and make it very clear that there will be no feuding because these are your wishes and decisions.

Many clients leave it at that, which I do not recommend.  My suggestion is to arrange the transfer of that heirloom to the children while you are alive.  This way, fewer “mistakes” can happen after your death, and you will know everyone got everything you wanted them to have.  Peace of mind is a beautiful thing!

© 2010 Julie Hall

Is it Time to Make a Change?

Whether due to unsettling financial crisis or a “blessed event” in your family, it may be time to change your will.  How long has it been since you reviewed your will?  There’s no time like the present to find your will and review your decisions and circumstances related to your final wishes.

You can change or update a will at any time.  An amendment to the will is referred to as a codicil.  I recommend you consult an attorney when you change a will as some changes are considered minor, and some may require a completely new will.

Here are some reasons for updating a will:

  • The family changes due to a birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, or death.
  • Major changes occur in the amount of property owned.
  • Tax laws change (federal and state).
  • Residence changes from one state to another.
  • The executor or guardian can no longer serve.
  • You decide – for any reason – to change the distribution of your property.

Remember, you must be careful to match the beneficiaries in your will to your other financial assets as well.  

Two more important reminders:

  1. Keep the  original will in a safe place such as a fireproof lock box or a bank safe deposit box.
  2. Make sure the family knows where the will is kept.  I recommend that all members of the immediate family know where the will is kept, as a precaution.  The executor should have a copy of the will, or know where it is kept and have a key to access the will immediately, if needed. 

If you have taken my advice and created a master list of your valuable possessions, their estimated or appraised value, and who you have chosen to receive each item, keep that master list with the original will.  Be sure that the executor and the immediate family have a copy of the list.

© 2010 Julie Hall

How Not to Become One of the Estate Lady’s Sad Stories

In my book and in many of my articles, I tell stories of estates I have handled with sad outcomes; either the parents were unprepared when death came, or there are serious and tragic family rivalries over possessions.  These stories are avoidable with preparation.  Real stories, every bit the truth, seem to stick with people better than a list of reasons.

The best protection against family rivalries is an updated will from your parents, along with preparation and preplanning with mom and dad.  So, here’s how NOT to become one of my sad stories in a future book or article.

  • Encourage your parents to create a wish list of what they want to give and to whom, and distribute copies to every child or heir.  This way, everyone has a copy, and if they are unhappy, they have to take it up with the parents while they are still alive.
  • Understand that you are not entitled to anything unless someone gives you an inheritance or a gift.  Your parents can do whatever they want with their estate.  Just being their child does not guarantee you an inheritance.  If you receive an inheritance, be exceptionally thankful.
  • Understand that settling an estate is one of the most difficult things you and your siblings will go through, especially during the division of personal property.   Chances are pretty good you won’t be pleased with the outcome of what you walk away with, but be thankful anyway.
  • Remember that this is not about you; it’s about what your parents want.  This is why it is imperative that a last will and testament and other legal documents be drawn up by an attorney.  You should encourage your parents to make decisions prior to infirmity or death.

© 2010 Julie Hall

8 Ways You Can Help Your Elderly Parent BEFORE Crisis

Here are 8 ways that you can be proactive and and take action now to help de-clutter your parents’ home.  Do this now for their sake, and for your own sake.  I can tell you from personal experience: you do not want to have to do this in “crisis mode.”

  1. Have the important conversations with your parents.  Approach them with love and ask them about their wishes.  Try to gain an understanding of their financial situation.  Be sure to know where all the important legal documents are kept. 
  2. Start to de-clutter your parents’ home.  Since they won’t likely appreciate this, suggest that you are helping them avoid both a fire and a tripping hazard.  Start by removing expired food, unused things, piles of newspapers, etc.
  3. Discuss and document allocation of personal property and heirlooms.  Create a wish list and ask an appraiser to assess the values.  Suggest “gifting” of special items while your parents are still alive.
  4. Every time you leave their house, take a few bags of donation items with you.  Dress the less fortunate.  Tell your parents you are helping them to “thin out” the house.
  5. If your parents have already moved out or passed away, begin the process of clearing out the house by using three piles to sort belongings: donate, sell, keep.
  6. When in doubt, always have a personal property appraiser evaluate antiques, collectibles, and anything you are not sure about.
  7. Continue to keep in touch with siblings and keep everyone on the same page.  This is the only way that whole family will maintain close and healthy relationships through this process.
  8. Always come from a place of love.  In the end, life is about MUCH more than the stuff.  It’s about the wonderful, deep, and abiding relationships within our families.

That’s my thoughts for this week.  Click on the “leave a comment” line below, and let’s discuss this together.

© 2010 Julie Hall