When Your Loved One Dies

A parent or grandparent has just passed away, and you are responsible for their estate liquidation.  What do you do?  Here are the most important practical steps to take, as you begin this process.

  1. Change the locks on the estate immediately to prevent unscrupulous heirs from entering.  While this will ruffle some feathers, it is absolutely the right thing to do to protect the assets from disappearing — and they will.
  2. Secure the valuables, jewelry, money, sterling, artwork, etc. in a safe deposit box (if the executor has a safe at home) or other secure location with the understanding that the storage is just temporary.  Never leave valuables in a vacant home as it will become a target.  Also, this is not an excuse for heirs to “help themselves.”  The executor will need to take charge and remain firm.
  3. Look for a cash stash.  Many people, particularly seniors, tend to hide money in places you would never think to look.  If memory impairment was evident, leave no stone unturned because valuable items can surface in the strangest places.  But remember too, a loved one with dementia will also give things away.
  4. Search for important papers: will/trust, tax documents, papers for house/car, deeds, any inventory or appraisals, anything with family history documented, life insurance documents, etc.
  5. Hire a professional certified personal property appraiser who is well-respected in the community to review the contents of the estate and ascertain what has value vs. what doesn’t.  The appraiser can also act as a consultant who can advise on the distribution of the contents.  They should never offer to buy what they appraise; that’s a conflict of interest.
  6. Knowing ahead of time if there will be contentious moments with heirs and if you suspect trouble, get that appraisal report and divide the estate as equitably as possible, unless the loved one left specific instructions otherwise.
  7. High end personal property should always be sent to an upper-tier auction gallery.  Have it professionally valuated to see which auction it should go to.  If liquidating the estate and it contains good, usable contents and plenty of small items, antiques and collectibles, hire a professional estate liquidator.  (www.ASELonline.com)
  8. Whoever you choose to hire, investigate them first by contacting the BBB, ask and check professional references, and make sure their company is registered in the state.  Not every company is as it seems.  You want a pro you can trust.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Why can’t I determine value on the internet?

Q:  You make it sound complicated to establish value of my heirlooms.  Why can’t I just look at the internet and find the value myself?  Surely there’s plenty of stuff for sale on Ebay that I can find a similar item and see what they are asking for that item.

A:  The arrival of the 21st century has enabled us to find 90% of what we are searching for on the internet.  What a great tool — but with greatness also comes weakness.  What a double-edged sword.  If used correctly, you can find the answers.  If used incorrectly, it can truly mislead you, or cause permanent damage to one’s reputation. 

I read numerous articles, newsletters, and blogs; I see so many wanting to research what their possessions are worth. 

There are multiple factors involved in assigning a value to a particular item, not limited to the following:  marketability, condition, collectability, age, rarity, provenance, materials used, handmade vs. factory made, etc.  Age alone is not the only important characteristic, for all that is old is not necessarily valuable.  Original condition is a very important factor, as is rarity. 

One problem is everyone seems to believe they have something hard-to-find or rare, based on family stories told over years.  Families are often disappointed to learn that the old bench great-grandfather made in 1857 is just an old bench and has more sentimental value than monetary value.

People have a tendency to jump onto Ebay, which is not always a good thing.  While Ebay is a huge site with a broad variety of items, the market is currently down and often cyclical.  There are better times of year than others to sell on Ebay.  It’s also important to compare apples with other apples, and not an item that just looks like grandma’s old figurine.  You must first have an accurate description of the item, then you can begin your search.

Remember too, the cardinal rule: If you go searching on the internet, make sure you accurately find the price the item sold for, and not just the asking price.  Many times people say, “Julie, you only appraised this item for $200 and I see it on the internet for $675.  Why is your appraisal so different?”  My research in comparables accurately depicts what it sold for.  Anyone can ask any price they wish.  Go on Ebay and you will see some pretty ridiculous asking prices!  But note, the items have not sold for these prices.

It is important to also remember to search multiple search engines, as well as different values: not just Ebay, but online auctions, in-person auctions, estate sales, etc.  Find the fairest comparables you can.  Keep in mind that professional appraisers have extensive training and knowledge in research, writing, and databases, which the average person does not have.  When in doubt, please hire a professional appraiser to offer you the knowledge you need to make good, sound decisions about your personal property.

© 2011, The Estate Lady

It’s Better to Be Safe Than Sorry

You know you are in trouble when an expert shakes his head and says, “With the way the economy is going ….”  I share this because I sat with an expert just yesterday and he offered me sound advice which I want to share with you.

He’s not just a highly successful jeweler.  He’s been in the business 60+ years and knows a great deal about his industry.  I also knew immediately upon meeting him that this older gentleman had extensive knowledge about the market, where it’s headed, and what we can expect in the future.  Many clients ask me on a daily basis what my thoughts are on the market, so today I offer a little on precious metals and gems.

My mom had given me some scrap gold to sell and I have several items I no longer wanted, but some of the pieces are very nice.  So I went to him for a little advice: Should I sell now, or hold onto it for “a while?”

His eyes and demeanor were like that of a wise old sage, and he said the following:

1.  Don’t sell these items now if you don’t need the money.  One day, these items will probably be worth more than cash.  With the way the economy is going ….

2.  In his opinion, gold may very well hit $5000 per ounce in our lifetime, but not in the immediate future.

3.  If the US dollar lost its power, you would still have items to barter with.  At least you would have it, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Now, I know this isn’t rocket science and we’ve heard this before.  But the warmth and wisdom in which he delivered this information forced me to take heed and really listen.  So for now, those items are tucked back in the safe where they belong, taunting me with the question, “Will I ever need to pull it out in the future, if things got really bad?”  Well, at least it’s there if I need it.

© 2011, The Estate Lady

From Clutter to Cash, Part 3

Here are the final 4 options for turning the clutter stored in your home and garage into cash.  Please pay special attention to Option #7 before you get rid of anything that might have value. 

6.  Do-It-Yourself – You can try Ebay, Craigslist, local advertising in your newspaper. These are time-consuming and often frustrating if you don’t know the proper way to describe the items, people never show up at the appointed times, money can be wasted in fees (especially Ebay’s, which are not cheap, but at times are worth it). For antiques, collectibles, jewelry, vehicles, larger collections: If you are determined to save the percentage you would ordinarily pay a professional, that’s ok. But keep in mind that professionals have the knowledge and skills to sell these items for the highest amount they can. If you are paying them a commission, they want it to sell for as much as possible too.

7.  BEFORE you sell or give away anything you perceive has value, make sure a professional appraiser takes a look at it. A professional who is paid for an opinion of value and not one that will offer to buy it, which to many is a conflict of interest, but you be the best judge. I have uncovered items worth tens of thousands of dollars that were slated for donation. The fee my client paid me was well worth having me come over, because my experience and skills uncovered what they thought was give-away junk. For example, they were very happy when I discovered in their basement a vase that was sold for $57,500.

8.  To sell or donate? – Should it just be donated, or can I try to sell it first? If it doesn’t sell, I’ll pack it up for donation. Whichever you prefer. If it is banged up and in horrible condition, recycle it or throw it away. If you would feel better giving your items to those less fortunate – there are many who are these days – please find a worthwhile charity or organization. By all means, give, give, give. You will receive a donation receipt you can use for this year’s taxes.

9.  Scrap it – If it’s metal and you don’t want it, or it’s broken or bent, don’t throw it away; scrap it! Find out the location of your local scrap yard and haul it there to get cash. It is not unusual for a truck load to be $100-$150 depending on the type of metals you have. They are looking for insulated copper wire, copper tubing, auto radiators, air conditioning coils, brass, aluminum, bronze, cast iron, stainless steel, and other high temperature alloys.

Please leave a comment at the end of this article and let me know how this has helped you.  What have you cleared out and how did you turn it into cash?

©The Estate Lady, 2011

Beware of “CASH PAID FOR” Ads

It feels like the personal property world has gone a little bonkers.  We have cable shows that demonstrate how to pick and make money off others who do not know the worth of their items, leaving the client feeling taken advantage of.  We have people in the industry who are purchasing from their own estates.  We have people who have lost their jobs and created overnight “estate liquidation specialist” companies, even though they have little experience. 

Seller, BEWARE and BE CAREFUL.  Use your scruples.  Research the company through the Better Business Bureau, local colleagues, and professional organizations.  Make sure you are dealing with someone who is recommended and is a trained professional.

I have long written and spoken on the importance of knowing what you have before you sell it, and that applies in today’s economy more than ever, when everyone is trying to make a buck off you! 

Please don’t misinterpret my words.  There are many estate experts out there who are truly outstanding at what they do, and ethical too!  Even those who purchase from their estates, many are very fair.  But like any other occupation, there are those who are not.  The good ones are getting harder to find and are worth their weight in gold.

Everywhere in local papers you see, “Cash paid for antiques, collectibles, military items, etc.”  Here’s my questions to you, the seller.  How do you know that buyer offering cash isn’t offering you pennies on the dollar?  How do you know that item he or she is offering $400 for is worth $20,000?  Are you too eager?  Are they sending red flags like “I’ll take it off your hands?” 

Stick to your guns until you know what you are dealing with first, but you too must be fair.  If an item appraises at $500, know you will not get that amount and it is unreasonable to expect that you would.  Only the exceptional items are selling well in this market.

The majority of true collectors are pretty reasonable and have a tendency to offer a fair amount for an item.  But someone who is in it to turn around and make money off the item(s) will often low-ball (not always, but they will try to increase their profit margin).

It is always worth getting a professional opinion, even if it costs a little bit — consider it a small insurance policy!

© 2011 Julie Hall

What should I keep when cleaning out Dad’s house?

Don’t sell, give away, or donate anything until a professional has looked at it.  So many Boomers throw away or give away personal possessions worth a fortune, simply because they don’t know the values.  Tell everyone “no” until the appraiser has reviewed everything.  The cost to pay a personal property appraiser is nothing compared to what you could find, not to mention the peace of mind it will offer you!

Keep the following:

  • Anything that can provide family history.
  • Family heirlooms if they are wanted and will be cherished.  Don’t force heirlooms on the children if their hearts aren’t in it.
  • Evaluate all items of perceived monetary value (hire that appraiser).
  • Some family photographs.
  • Items that are rare or unusual (some antiques fall into this category) IF someone has room for them and wants them.  It’s ok to sell if no one wants them.
  • Jewelry — have it appraised first.
  • Items with historic significance — may donate if no family member wants them.
  • Important documents must be kept together until they are all sorted through by the executor.
  • Collections: gold, coins, guns, stamps, etc.  Always have them evaluated by a professional.
  • Antiques, artwork, paintings, sculpture — must be evaluated by a professional.
  • Military items.  Not only are these items sought after by collectors but may also be vital to family history.
  • Safes, safety deposit boxes, and their contents. 
  • Anything you cannot identify.

Don’t take things just to take them.  Select a few sentimental items that are small enough for you to use or display in your home.  Great family and marital strife can develop if you take too much.  Remember, the more you take now, the more your children will have to deal with later.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Three More Important Tips for Personal Property

We’re continuing our discussion of important tips for dealing with personal property in an estate.  Here are the final three tips:

3.  Just because it is old doesn’t mean it is valuable.  This is my personal mantra.  Each day, I must face clients and report the truth based on facts.  Depression glass may have been the rage 12 years ago, but today the market is pretty flat, much like the beloved Hummel figurines of mother’s day.  It’s important to understand the distinction between monetary and sentimental value.  If great-grandfather made it in 1865, it is certainly old and very special to us.  This, however, does not indicate or equate to significant monetary value.  It does hold value in the heart, though.

4.  PLEASE hire a professional before you have a yard sale on your own.  In my career, I have seen things thrown in the trash, dumpsters, yard sales, etc. that children put there or sold for next to nothing.  In actuality, they were worth a small fortune!  Knowledge really is power.   Parents, consider getting your heirlooms evaluated prior to your passing, so you can leave this information for your heirs.  Children, ask questions about the history of these heirlooms while mom and dad can still tell you.  Discuss together the possibility of gifting prior to death.  At the very least, mom and dad should document who gets what.

5.  When using professionals in the industry, check them out first.  Make sure they have no unresolved complaints against them with the Better Business Bureau.  Ask them for professional references, and ask how long they have been doing this work.  Ask your friends, neighbors, and other professionals if they can recommend estate professional appraisers and liquidators.  Be very leary of those who “dabble” in estate sales or yard sales; you need a pro.  If you think hiring a professional is expensive, you should try hiring an amateur.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Important Tips When Dealing with Personal Property from an Estate

When a loved one becomes infirm or passes away, the handling of the estate and contents lands on the lap of the heir(s).  If the heir is prepared, it will go much easier than if they operate in a crisis mode.  All too often, I see children who don’t know anything about the estate and contents.  It’s like they are literally walking into a dark house and starting from scratch with no guidance.

Here are some important tips to consider if you are currently dealing with an estate, or soon to be handling one.

1.  Don’t do ANYTHING until you know what it is and what it’s worth.  Do not give items to neighbors, friends, family, or charity until everything has been looked at by a professional appraiser, or you have been advised what the best method(s) is/are to proceed with dissolution of the estate.  It is well worth the cost to get this information.  It will even assist with equitable distribution, thereby keeping things as neutral as possible between the siblings.

2.  What is it worth?  What someone is willing to pay you for it.  It is not worth the dollar amount you see on the internet – that is only an asking price and usually quite inflated at that.  It is not worth what grandma told you back in the 70’s, and the stories that were told by previous generations can be a bit stretched through the years.   As with anything else in life, the value is contingent upon many factors, one of which is supply and demand. 

Since so many china sets have saturated the market, and will continue to do so, what do you think will happen to the price?  If the younger women want Pottery Barn and IKEA, and not grandma’s china, what will happen to these sets?  The prices will continue to plummet.  Always check with a professional appraiser first.

That’s enough to digest this week, but I have three more important tips for you next week!

© 2010 Julie Hall