Thou Shalt Not Steal

Life sure is getting harder … and weirder.  Call me a twentieth century throw-back, but people and times seem to be changing fast and I don’t think it’s my imagination.  Just yesterday, my husband and I were out taking a drive in the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains enjoying the magnificent views.  We had no clue where we were, other than a curvy country road.  The adventure is half the fun!  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a huge yard sale and shouted to my husband to “Stop! Yard Sale!”  Since being married to me, he has thrown his car into reverse more than he ever used to.

Who would have thought that all the way out there with no street signs, but plenty of goats and chickens, you would find an awesome sale with great finds and reasonable prices?  My family knows when I am “shopping sales” it’s best to leave me alone because it takes great concentration to select and negotiate the great buys.  I piled up a few items, greeted and exchanged conversation with the sellers, and enjoyed their company.  One seller there told me she had real jewelry – if I was interested – because I looked like the honest type.  Lucky to be born with a kind face, I politely accepted her invitation to see the real stuff and she hauled me up to her front porch where it was all tangled and piled in her shoe boxes.  Some of the pieces were very nice.

She was only 40 but she looked much older, and I knew she had a story to tell – and tell, she did.  Once the wife of a wealthy man, he was always unavailable to her, busy making his money.  Her job seemed to be going out and buying jewelry.  But he was also abusive to her.  She escaped with her young son and her jewelry, and that was it.  Now she was living in a tiny home in the middle of nowhere, where no one knew her.  Her young son was by her side, as I expect he’ll be most of his life, taking care of mom.  She told me she didn’t want to sell her jewelry, but that she had to.  Her prices weren’t cheap, but the pieces were quality and I did purchase a handful from her.  She was so appreciative.

During the sale, an older woman was wandering around the front yard.  She was very sweet, like your grandma, saw the jewelry and asked to see it.  When the younger woman who had been helping me turned her back, the older woman took a handful of the good gold and silver jewelry and stuffed it in her pockets and in her blouse.  Someone yelled out, “Hey lady, you can’t steal that stuff.  That belongs to Karen and you haven’t paid for it!”  It was quite a tense moment.  No one really knew what to do because no one expected a sweet older woman to steal!

Don’t get me wrong.  Since the dawn of man, people have been stealing … from merchants, family, neighbors, even out of necessity.  I can’t sit here and tell you I am the world’s most religious person, but I can tell you I am a person with strong moral convictions.  The problem is that most people seem to have lost their own moral compass.  I wonder where it all went in such a short time.  I am a child of the 60’s and now it seems like that was eons ago.

I also wonder when it was that I turned into my parents.  I am officially an old fogey … but at least I’m a moral one.

©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.

The Estate Medium

Give me a little while in an estate – any estate – and I will tell you more about that loved one’s life than most people who knew them.  Walking into an estate, sight unseen for the first time, can be compared to an artist starting on a new canvas.  We wipe the mental slate clean from the last estate and clear ourselves before going in to “receive” thoughts, feelings, and even a certain energy about the home and the people who lived there.  One can sense many things immediately, if they are open to it.

In my career, I have handled the estates of young and old alike: the mentally ill, the lost souls, those who end their own lives, the hoarders, the estranged, those with dementia, eating disorders, chronic disease, those who died rich, and those who died poor.  While these are all very different, I have come to the conclusion that in the end, we are all pretty much the same regardless of the situation that led to the eventual demise.

I went into an estate last week where someone ended their life.  This is not common, but I see it a few times each year.  The feeling is always the same once I have entered the home.  I walk in and instantly feel a wall of despair.  It is a profound sense of sadness.  As I walk through the home, I will see other signs that something wasn’t quite right; either the home is too clean (as in OCD clean) or I see hoarding tendencies.  Often scattered around in the strangest places, I will see liquor bottles coupled with a multitude of prescription bottles; you know what a dangerous combination this is.  I look at what their hobbies and interests were, which will reveal much about them.  And sometimes I can see conflict in their lives just by observing what was in their home.  Was it mental illness, untreated depression, drugs, etc?  We’ll never know.  It is not unusual to sense that at one time, they were a very bright light.

If we are in the home for any length of time, would you believe me if I told you that my staff and I begin to cry, or that we are filled with sorrow we don’t understand?  It’s as if we can feel what they felt.  We can feel that they were “stuck” in a dark place even though they had much to offer.  A very sad situation indeed.  We always end up praying for that person (for everyone, really), lifting lovely thoughts and words hoping that they have found peace at last, and that we are there to help the family begin to heal by handling the estate for them.

On the flip side, we can also sense lives and homes that are buoyant, colorful, joyful, and productive.  These homes are filled with light, usually lovers of animals and nature, and hobbies such as volunteering, bird watching, and gardening.  In these homes, we usually just feel a stillness that has no heaviness to it.  And in some cases, we start singing and are lighthearted while working in the estate.  We don’t always understand why the environment affects us and our feelings.

Two completely different experiences, and everything you can imagine in between.

I believe there’s a way we can incorporate a conscious change into our lives and homes, so we can positively shift the energy we carry with us, for it remains long after we are gone, and deeply affects our loved ones left behind.

©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.

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®

“Truck Carrying Heirlooms Stolen”

Can you imagine dealing with a loved one’s passing, dividing the estate, renting a truck to bring heirlooms home, and on the way back … the truck gets stolen?

This is a true story that happened last week.  Apparently, the children packed up everything they wanted to keep and headed home with a truck full, including $100,000 worth of jewelry in the cab of the truck, $7,000 worth of furniture, and $4,000 worth of power tools in the trailer of the truck.  The children started in Ohio and were heading home to Florida, when they decided to stop and rest for the night at a Microtel Inn.  By the time they woke and were ready to hit the road at 9:00 am, they discovered everything was gone, including the truck.

Sadly, there was no outside surveillance at this Microtel, but most economy hotels do not have outdoor surveillance.  The children seemed to be befuddled that the truck was stolen because it was “parked under a light in the parking lot” and they locked the truck.  Lights and locks don’t stop thieves.  The thief broke in and hot-wired the truck.

Call me crazy, but it seems to me they could have been followed from where they started.  Someone probably knew what they were carrying and decided to help themselves when no one was looking.  Besides the obvious pain of feeling violated and cheated by some thug out there, one has to wonder what they were thinking when they left $100,000 worth of jewelry in a small suitcase inside the truck.  It begs the question, “Why not take the jewelry into the hotel room with you for the night?”  That’s what I would have done.

Would-have, could-have, should-have will not be of any help in this case.  The damage is done!  The police will most likely not find the jewelry, as it’s my guess it was flipped for quick cash or it sits in someone’s safe for a while until the coast is clear.  They will find the truck, abandoned somewhere and completely gutted of its contents.

Estate Lady tips when transferring or traveling with valuables:

1.  Jewelry/cash needs to be carried on your person at all times (fanny pack, backpack, pinned inside garments, shoulder bag worn across your chest, etc.) until you arrive home and get it to a safe place.

2.  Furniture and other items, such as power tools, that add up in value should be moved professionally if the family can afford it.  Moving companies have insurance and if it were stolen/damaged under their care, they would have at least been given some replacement money.  Professional movers usually have checks and balances in place to ensure theft doesn’t happen.  Make sure to use a larger, well-known, professional mover.

3.  For smaller valuables such as figurines, small paintings, jewelry, etc:  Whenever we move, I take on the liability myself, pack the car with them and get to my destination in one day.  If I can’t do that, then they need to be professionally packed and moved, making sure you take out additional insurance and have the items appraised, just in case.  Or, I will sell items that no longer mean much to me and that lightens my load.

I realize people want to do it themselves because it is more economical to do so.  But as you can see, this cheaper option was overwhelmingly more costly.

I remember packing up my car from mom and dad’s estate and making the 10 hour road trip back home alone.  I never left the car, except to run in to use a restroom and stretch my legs.  Mom’s jewelry was on my person, hidden.  So even if my car had been stolen, because it looked like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies, at least the more valuable and sentimental jewelry items were safe with me.

Such a tragic story that didn’t have to happen!

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Surreal Observations

I am beginning to question whether or not I’ve been living under a rock, because some of my recent observations caught me off-guard.  Recently, I went to Wal-Mart to pick up a few necessities before bad weather reached us later that day.  There I was, walking through the store with a pleasant demeanor and smile, but no one else was.  That was my first observation.

In the freezer section, a little boy was determined to not permit me to open the door I needed to get a frozen pizza.  His mother stood 2 feet away and watched as this 8-10 year old did everything possible to intentionally block my way.  He wasn’t being cute; he was doing it in a spiteful manner and mom did nothing to correct him or hurry him along.  I silently wondered to myself why this mother would not correct this boy.  The answer?  She never has, so why start now?  It was sad to see that.

People walked around like zombies.  Middle aged people and older were very rude, didn’t care if they were in your way, and certainly didn’t move to give you the right of way.  This happened less than a minute after the freezer incident.  I almost expect this from younger people, but certainly not the boomers.  Our parents taught us better than that.

Then, when I checked out with an armful of items, the cashier didn’t speak at all, not even to give me the total!  It felt for a moment that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people.  Was it a full moon, or what?

As I walked out, an elderly male employee was sweeping the entrance and having a hard time bending down to adjust the carpet mats, so people wouldn’t slip.  My heart really went out to him.  He had to be 75 years old, and here he was still working, still stooping, and bless his heart, he was the only one who wished me a good day and gave me a huge smile.  I flashed him a huge smile right back and wished him a great day.

I’m a little disappointed in myself for allowing this experience with the zombies to have affected my personality.  I let it get the best of me and it turned me into a sour person.  I was even aware I was scowling at one point!

But in the midst of the dark there is always light, such as the elderly gentleman who, in spite of his pain, wholeheartedly greeted me with kindness and care.  His smile made me smile.  Then I remembered this:  make yourself familiar with angels, and behold them frequently in spirit, for without being seen, they are ever-present with you.  Well, sometimes they are seen!

© 2013 Julie Hall

What Have I Done to Deserve That?

Richard is 82 years old and not in good health.  He lives in the Midwest and called me asking for help with his possessions.  He was moving himself into a small private residence, since he can no longer care for himself.  From what I could tell, he is kind natured and soft spoken.  He told me about his many physical ailments such as diabetes, cancer, breathing problems, etc.  Richard was forthcoming, had his wits about him, and was very pragmatic about his limitations.  He told me he was “falling apart” and needed help.

One of the questions I ask people who call me for help is “Do you have any family that can lend a hand?”  Richard has two adult sons.  He said they never call, don’t care about him, and never showed any interest in him or his life.  As a highly decorated veteran who earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War, he lived a full life as a Marine, with many stories to tell.  He was there at the Battle of Chosin Resevoir — a brutal 17 day battle in freezing weather.  It was pretty clear to me that this man had endured the unthinkable, and even in his older age was still a tough Marine, but his voice held a fragility when it came to his sons.

“What did I do to deserve this treatment from my boys?  I worked hard all of my life to provide for them, and now they aren’t there for me.  What did I do wrong?”

Knowing I was in a position to help Richard, I did my best to assure him that the pitiful actions of his children are not of his doing.  They are adults now and have made a decision not to be present in his life.  One day they would live to regret it, as they sort through his possessions and find his Purple Heart, wishing they could ask questions about their father’s valor and what that great battle was really all about.  But by then, it would be too late; the heavy weight of guilt would be upon their shoulders.

I encouraged Richard to build a relationship with his only grandson, who seemed to at least have some interest in him and his life story.

There are times it becomes very clear to me that people cross our paths for just a few minutes, and in that short time, you can either make a difference or not!


Semper Fi, Richard.  May your journey be a peaceful one from this point forward.

© 2013 Julie Hall

It Was As If She Never Existed

All it would have taken was some planning.  Mrs. Jones was recently removed from her home due to rapidly progressing dementia.  Since she had no children and her husband pre-deceased her, there was no one to care for her and her financial matters.  The case was turned over to a guardian who nothing about her or her situation.  I was asked to go to Mrs. Jones’ home and evaluate the possessions to see what could be sold for her continued care.

I went to the home and spent some time photographing it for the guardian so they could see the type of home and possessions that were in it.  While the home was basically clean, you could see that someone afflicted with dementia was living there, as the upstairs was all askew.  Food was left in the refrigerator from months before, and the drawers, cabinets, etc. had been rummaged through.  My job was to report back my findings, what could be sold, and offer an estimate to clean out the house.

As it turns out, they do not know if the house is falling into foreclosure, or if it is owned outright, or if there is even any money in Mrs. Jones’ name.  It would appear from a stranger looking in, that there were little-to-no facts about Mrs. Jones at all — it was as if any knowledge of her took leave when her dementia took hold.

My heart really went out to Mrs. Jones.  I am no stranger to dementia and how it affects the one who has it, and also the loved ones around them.  Yet, no one stepped forward to claim Mrs. Jones.  No one even knew if she had any financial means.  All they knew is all the utilities had been turned off because she forgot to pay the bills.  One day she was there and one day she was moved.  It’s as if she never existed.

If ever there was a classic example of planning ahead, it’s this one.  Ask yourself, your parents, your spouse … what IF?  Isn’t it better to give this life situation, and many others similar to it, some serious thought now while you can?

I am an old softy.  Tough as nails when I have to be, but soft when it comes to the elderly and infirmity.  Most of this scenario, if not all of it, could have been avoided with some pre-planning.  It’s too late for Mrs. Jones.  I don’t even want to think about where she is or the kind of care she is receiving.  But it’s not too late for us and our loved ones.

Have the talk today!

© 2013 Julie Hall

How to Handle Yourself During the Estate Settlement Process

It’s an observation worth noting: When it comes to dividing heirlooms and estate contents, everyone tenses up and no one wants to be the first to talk.  You can sense the apprehension in the room, and it appears as if everyone is trying to predict what the other will do.  Will my sister-in-law make a fuss?  Will brother want the same things I want, and if so, what do we do?  Will there be fighting and resentment?

From the perspective of this 20+ year estate veteran who has observed many families, we should be more concerned with our own behavior.  It is more likely that people will follow rather than lead, so if you lead by example, the others may very well follow suit, especially if you remain positive.  If every heir was in tune with their own behavior and had the ability to stay on the straight and narrow peaceful path, there would be a lot less fighting in the world.  Unfortunately this is not always the case.

When a parent passes, particularly the last remaining parent, true colors, a few fangs, and an entitlement mentality will eventually surface.  Most feuds break out for four basic reasons:

  1. A misunderstanding has taken place and has not been effectively dealt with
  2. Everyone grieves differently and emotions can be volatile
  3. A situation has been festering for years that probably took place during childhood and now will appear, causing all kinds of problems
  4. An heir perceives he/she is getting taken advantage of on the cash assets and/or heirlooms.

Here’s how you can contribute to a more peaceful resolution:

  1. Sit down and say what’s on your mind.  Beating around the bush confuses everyone and confrontation is not necessarily a bad thing.  My father always said that the day after a thunderstorm is usually clean, bright, and beautiful.  The storm clears the air and so does a confrontation that is more about sharing than finger-pointing.  Some heirs can’t handle this confrontation and I would definitely recommend some sort of mediation, if they want to save the relationship.  The down side is if they don’t fix this early on, the relationship will eventually be irreparable as the damage continues to expand and both parties live out their lives with anger in their hearts.
  2. It’s vital to do everything you can to keep the peace.  Regardless of what part you play in this, it will have an impact on you too, most especially a negative impact.  Even indirectly connected, you will be touched in some negative way.  To avoid this, do your best to take the “higher road.”  You’ll feel better doing so, even if 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 you.
  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, if the hurt can be healed.  It’s too easy to throw in the towel and quit.  Always remain objective and try very hard to see the other side.  Seeing both sides, or at least putting yourself in the other’s shoes, might very well lend some insight into the situation.  The problem is that we are generally too self-centered to do this, because we feel strongly we are in the right.  Promise yourself you will at least try!

Dividing heirlooms can be one of the most contentious experiences during 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.

© 2013 Julie Hall

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

An Estate is a Sitting Target

(Please send this to everyone you know is dealing with an estate.)

I just received yet another sad phone call.  A client’s deceased father’s home was broken into and 90% of the estate is now gone.  These thieves weren’t in any rush either.  They came with a huge truck, left odds and ends in the yard, drank beer as evidenced by beer cans left around the home, and proceeded to rob this family without care, concern, conscience, or karma.  Not only is she grieving, but now she has this to contend with as well.  The contents of this estate were sitting, waiting for a long distance sibling to arrive in town to divide it with his sister.

The old phrase “sitting duck” applies here.  It alludes to a duck floating on the water, not suspecting that it is the object of a hunter or predator.  Let’s take a closer look at this situation, so we can avoid it in the future.

Since the beginning of man, there have been thieves.  Through the millennia, man has stolen everything from other people held for ransom, to meat, to money, to gold, you name it.  But take a good look at the state of our economy right now.  Unscrupulous individuals, who feel entitled to take what others have rightfully earned and inherited, are moving in on the good side of man.  They saw a house sitting, they made a plan, and they helped themselves.  As times get tougher, we will see more of this.

Do you really think law enforcement is going to find these possessions?  My guess is no — they are gone forever — slipping into flea markets, personal safes, sold cheap, etc.  I’m not blaming the police, as they are overwhelmed with this sort of thing on a daily basis.  In my opinion, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’ve said it before in my writings and I’d like to offer the best advice.  Don’t let the estate be a sitting duck.  Deal with it in a timely manner, get professionals in there to help you, and get it done.  The longer it sits, the more likely it will become a target.

With the permission of the executor (unless the executor already has done so), document and remove all the valuables from the home so they can be divided at a later date: sterling items and flatware, gold, jewelry, high-end electronics, expensive tools, etc.  Keys/locks should be changed immediately upon learning of a death, because you don’t know everyone who has keys.  Work through the estate and don’t delay!  Don’t become one more ugly statistic, like this grieving woman who only did what she thought was right by waiting.  Work closely with siblings, and find the time to meet to make decisions.

© 2012 Julie Hall