Giving While Still Living

Every estate plan should have a mandatory requirement: give away what you have (or at least part of it) while you are physically and mentally able to do so.  It is so important to make sure things are done the way you would like them, instead of through an unsuspecting family member or friend, who could make poor decisions with your assets.

Sometimes, those chosen to make decisions, make very poor decisions; some based on greed and not putting the loved one’s wishes at the forefront.  In some cases, the person chosen is just the wrong one to make these decisions; choosing wisely is half the battle.  Sadly, some feel they are entitled and help themselves, or they do not communicate clearly with other heirs.

I have seen this scenario so often; it leaves me with chills every time I think about it.  I have been brought into homes while mom is literally taking her last breaths.  I would have declined the visit, if I had known.  I have seen children steal while mom is sleeping in the next room (“She’ll never miss this.”)  I have been discovered that children have showed up with moving trucks in the dark of night to take what they want, never to be heard from again.  I have seen a woman steal jewelry from a dying girlfriend as she napped.  Sigh …

It brings me great joy when I can bring light to dark situations.  But what I can’t figure out is why people behave in this manner?  How on earth can they sleep at night?  I cannot imagine anyone doing such things and sleeping soundly.

My mind returns back to handling my own parents’ estate and how well my brother and I managed it.  We split everything right down the middle, down to the penny, just as mom and dad wanted it to be.  We loved them so much that we knew their money was first and always for their care.  They were the priority and we made sure they had what they needed.

Looking back, I am glad that mom gifted some things to me while she was still living.  When my father died last, I realized they had not gifted to my sibling, like mom did for me.  So when dad passed, it was important that my brother have grandfather’s war medals of courage, dad’s jewelry and college ring, etc.  It was only fair and that was the way we wanted it.  Since our parents were no longer there, we carried on in the way they wanted us to treat each other.

For those who may be struggling with this issue, allow me to interject a powerful thought.  With all the clients I have had in my career, I can assure you that the ones who

  • MAKE PLANS
  • STICK WITH THE PLAN, and
  • GIFT AHEAD OF TIME

fare much better than those who

  • DON’T PLAN
  • LEAVE OTHERS TO DECIDE FOR THEM, and
  • ANGER OTHERS.

SEIZE THIS MOMENT!

Gift to those who are special to you.  If your gifts are significant, please talk with your attorney or CPA for guidance.  If your gifts are sentimental, be as equitable as possible and give these items in person, so there are no questions later.  This simple gesture will not only offer joy to someone you care about, but you will also simplify what has to be divided later.

Accept this advice from one who really knows!

©2015 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.

 

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Fighting Over the Same Heirloom

Problem: Two of my siblings are fighting over the same heirloom.  How do you divide and keep it fair?

SOLUTION:  When two or more are arguing over the same item(s), you have a few options.  Beware, not all options will meet with approval.  Begin by getting a personal property appraisal on the items that the heirs desire, including the items that are the subject of the fighting.  This objective, third-party person will assign values that are fair, since they have no interest in the items.

Try to keep everything as equitable as possible to keep the peace!  This also depends on what the will/trust specifies.  If Sue gets a $5,000 item and Barbara gets a $200 item, that is not equitable.  Arrangements must be made, whether in cash assets or other items, to make up for that $4,800 deficit.

  • One sibling can offer to buy the item from the others and take it out of their inheritance, if there is one.  The price would be based on the appraised value.
  • If this item has significantly more value than other items in the estate, then that one choice will have to suffice until others get their pick of items and arrive at the approximate value.
  • If two people want a china set or silver flatware service, can it be divided?  Sure, but know that from the perspective of an estate expert, it is not advisable.  If this set were to be sold one day, it would be worth more to a collector/buyer if the set were intact and complete.
  • One heir simply “turns the other cheek” and forfeits to the other.
  • The two can write up an agreement and share the item, if it is practical to share.  However, this only postpones that inevitable decision later in life.  When the siblings die, the buck has been passed to their children to contend with the same issue.
  • If no one can agree and no one is willing to give in, the executor should consider selling the item through an appropriate selling venue and split the profits between all the heirs.  Yes, the siblings will be upset, but that is more acceptable than resenting each other for the rest of their lives.  If they remain in a tug-of-war, no solution provided is going to work.
  • What would mom or dad want?  Would they approve of this tension?  In most cases, the answer is a resounding NO.  They would be disappointed.  They trusted you to make decisions that they probably should have made when they were alive, but for whatever reason, they didn’t.  You can’t go back; you can only go forward.  Go forward, knowing what your parents would have wanted, and be fair to each other.
  • If nothing else works, you could always flip a coin and let the odds decide for you.

Realize that these situations can be highly charged with tension and emotion.  Everyone is not going to be happy 100% of the time.  There are very few instances where everything comes out flawless.  Spare the relationships by keeping the peace.

©2015 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.

In Search of Sanity

I have a theory that people subconsciously believe their stuff will anchor them to this world.  They fill their homes with “treasures” as a sign of success; they “made it” in this life, in contrast to their parents who didn’t have much during the Depression.  They amass things out of fear, fear they will have to go without.  They may hold on to stuff out of guilt.  Finally, they may feel they are doing their children a favor by leaving them so many “valuable” things.

At some point, all this stuff becomes a proverbial monkey on someone’s back.  Someone will pull their hair out and cling to sanity trying to understand the estate settlement process.

I find it so interesting that people spend a lifetime collecting stuff, buying stuff, inheriting stuff, fighting over it, displaying it, talking about it … but they rarely make a plan for it.

Collections are one example.  Everybody collects something.  It’s exciting when you find a special piece you’ve been seeking for years.  When the word gets out that you collect cats, suddenly everyone buys you cats.  Metal, porcelain, glass, pottery … it doesn’t matter.  You get tons of cats whether you want them or not.  Next thing you know, you have 200 cats!

Let us not forget that we inherit items along the way, tripling (or more) what we already have.  Soon, our homes are bursting at the seams, our spouses are griping because of all the clutter, and our children let us know in no uncertain terms that they want nothing other than a ride to IKEA and cash, so they can buy what they want.

Every day, I am in multiple estates and I see all of our accumulations.  Some houses are neat and tidy, but the closets are bursting at the seams!  Things are strategically hidden!  Other homes are eclectic and interesting from world travels.  Still others are hoarders, thinking every possession is valuable, and they will not listen to the reasoning of a professional such as myself.

I can say with 100% certainty that we’re facing a major problem in this country as our seniors and boomers age and pass away.  Plain and simple, we just have too much stuff!  More is finding its’ way to the market every day as our elders die, and the boomers are getting the message to simplify their lives and let go of things that bog them down.

This simplification process has brought to the marketplace experts:

  • professional organizers
  • senior move managers
  • stagers
  • estate experts

Look for professionals who are trained, credentialed, belong to professional organizations, and have solid experience.  Start whittling down the years of stuff you no longer use or need.  Open up your space and let light in the house.  All my clients who have taken the downsizing plunge are thrilled they did it, and are now free to enjoy their lives.

As we make our way through our parents’ belongings, we also have our stuff to contend with at the same time.  It’s important to think ahead and have some kind of plan in place, whether giving/gifting in advance, or selling everything and buying only what you really need.  You will love the feeling of lightness.

Learn to let go.  Keep the next generation in mind as you are doing so.  It’s one of the best gifts you can give your family.

©2015 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.

How to Select the Best Heirloom

This may be hard for some to believe, but when a loved one dies, the things I see are deplorable.  Children, siblings, extended family, friends, and neighbors descend on the estate like flies.  Seriously?  A life just ended, and this is what people think about .. the stuff and the money.

In my career, I have truly seen the unthinkable; people hire me to uncover the most valuable items so they can choose those items before their siblings arrive (as I later found out).  Children sneaking in the estate before the funeral, and even while the loved one was dying, to “help themselves.”  I have seen neighbors or long-term friends approach the estate as if they were entitled, which makes me ill.  I have seen families offer the caregiver a memento; then the caregiver uses their personal key to empty the house, literally, over the weekend, knowing the children are not there.

When did people get so calloused and mean-spirited?  It is very hard to understand people’s actions.  Everyone always seems to get greedy, hard feelings and resentment follow, and in the long run, no one is happy.

Here are a few helpful hints from The Estate Lady® to guide you in selecting an heirloom.

Selecting an heirloom(s) from an estate is a multi-fold process in your mind and in reality.  First, think minimalist.  Do not take just for the sake of taking.  Remember that anything you take ultimately becomes a challenge for your children in the future.  In making these decisions:

  • Keep in mind that selections are ruled by emotions/sentimentality/nostalgic ties to the person who just passed.  Examples would be photographs, their eyeglasses, a favorite perfume … small mementos that have little value to anyone but you.  NOTE: This does not mean pack up the entire estate and keep all small items.  It means be prudent and hold on to smaller items that you truly cherish.
  • At some point, the emotional side must give way to logical consideration and reality.  Separate the emotional from the realistic and see practical side.
    • Will I really use it or can my sibling use it more?
    • Will I have space for it?
    • Is the cost to transport/ship too high to get it to my home?  Don’t expect the estate to pay for shipping; arrange that on your own.
    • Do I have to put it into storage?  Think twice; storage gets very expensive.
  • Consider the condition of the item.  Older items can have serious problems: insect eggs in antique rugs, items in poor condition now unusable, mold on items, odors from smoking/animals/mildew.  You don’t want to bring these into your home, especially if you have allergies.

When our mom died, and my brother and I went back to their home to sort through things, I reached for this little gold tone frog with green eyes and solid perfume inside.WP_003000  I bought it for mom when I was 10 years old.  I laughed every time I saw it, wondering why she kept it.  One day I asked her.  “Mom, why do you keep this silly little frog?  I paid $1 for it when I was little.”  She simply replied, “It always made me smile; I remember when you gave it to me.”  Don’t you know I had to have that little frog?

This is how you make solid, knowledgeable selections from the estate.  Not based on worth, because money means nothing.  Chances are pretty good your children won’t want that 9 ft. tall Victorian secretary.

The value is in the heart and it will guide you!  Turn the other cheek, be polite to each other, and put the memory of the person you lost before yourself to honor them.  Friends and neighbors should step back, allow the family time to grieve, sort and make their selections first.  Friends should not request anything unless the children offer it to them.  If you can’t have a particular item, at least take a photograph and remember it that way.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the item you want.

©2015 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.

Seven Attorneys for Seven Siblings

Consulting on an unusual estate recently, I was informed there were 7 beneficiaries, 4 of which were also co-executors.  Can you imagine that many co-executors?  What a nightmare!  This estate also had personal property, which the family felt to be very valuable, but it wasn’t.  There was a bunch of land to be divided, or sold and divided among the children.

Naturally, when you have that many cooks in the kitchen, everyone has different thoughts and opinions.  This is why co-executors is not necessarily a good choice.  In my opinion, estate settlement is much harder when you hand decisions to people who can’t come to a conclusion and end up fighting, or potentially going broke doing so.  Some wanted the land intact; others wanted it subdivided.  You can see where this story is going and it isn’t good.

The siblings had indeed reached an impasse.  One long distance heir, who had little to do with mom while she was alive, was the first to get an attorney involved, then everyone else followed suit.  It just gets messier from there.

I have been doing this for a very long time; I hope you don’t think I’m crazy when I share with you that people and their behaviors are getting worse.  Their behavior is often out of control, along with other emotions, sometimes even getting physical.  It makes me wonder.

What on earth could be so grand that it’s worth destroying themselves, as well as other relatives and relationships?  Don’t these people know they are going to have to carry the burden of their decisions for the remainder of their lives?

Don’t get me wrong.

I’d love to have a slice of land or the proceeds from it.

Who wouldn’t?

But not at this cost.

It just isn’t worth it!

The attorneys will do their jobs well, and whatever inheritance there is will dwindle with legal fees.

Interesting observation:  While the inheritance is decreasing, the emotions and angst will only increase and be prolonged, sometimes for the rest of the lifetime, long after the estate has been settled.

Is there anyone to blame in this scenario?  Fingers can be pointed all day long.  In the end, it comes down to the original decision maker who did not specify what should happen to the property and named so many co-executors.  Big mistake which caused even more strife for those left behind.

I ask you plainly … Is it really worth it?

I couldn’t possibly make this stuff up!

©2014 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.

Surely, You Jest!

As you can imagine, I receive all kinds of emails searching for answers, needing guidance, and some which also center around “How much is my stuff worth?”  But every once in a while, I get an email that just about knocks me off my chair.  Here’s a sample:

“Everything I own is very expensive and worth a fortune.  I know this because I pay a fortune for quality.  I have unique and very expensive collections, including a large assortment of cut glass pieces.  All of these currently sell on E-bay for high amounts and a lot of them could sell in the $1,000s.  I also have a collection of collector plates that are worth several thousand dollars.  I have a Hummel collection worth at least one thousand dollars.  I have a shoe collection worth thousands of dollars.  I have several other smaller collections that are worth thousands.  Even my older furniture is worth thousands.  Can you sell them for me?”

Surely, you jest!  While I always do my best to assist and even educate my clients so they can empower themselves to make the right decisions, there are some people I just can’t help.  They won’t or can’t accept the whole picture.  This person is one of them.

Despite my best intentions, you just can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.  The market will bear only what it will bear, and their cut glass or shoes or Hummels are really not that much different from the rest of ours.  It is unfair to apply this kind of unreasonable thinking and pressure to a professional in the industry, who can only do their best in a very soft market.  Often the blame and complaint lands on the estate professional, when in reality we have done our best, and our best just wasn’t good enough for the client.  Some of this will fall back on how well we discussed “expectations” of what things will sell for.

Other reasons for the motivations behind selling are numerous.  Perhaps this person needs immediate financial relief from the sale of those items.  Perhaps the person is not well.  Maybe they really do believe their things are worth a fortune because they paid so much for them.  As you’ve heard me say before, what you paid for something means nothing now.  If I invest several hundred dollars in designer shoes, in the end, they are USED SHOES, designer or not.

Perhaps she doesn’t want to see it, but I wouldn’t be The Estate Lady® if I didn’t reply with my usual flair.  So, I gathered my senses, did some sales comparables online which I could share in the form of “SOLD” prices, in easy links they could click on.  I wanted to show them ever so politely, that their things were not worth what they originally thought.  They are not selling for thousands.  They are selling for $25, maybe a little higher or lower.  I get the feeling they didn’t like that.

It took me a lot of time to find and send that information to them; I never heard back from them.  I guess they just weren’t ready to hear what I had to say.  I silently lifted up a quick prayer that no matter what challenges they were experiencing, someone out there could be more help to them than myself.

Unfortunately, someone like that will never change their thinking no matter how much proof is offered.  Many years and ample experience have taught me they would only be upset with me, even if I did my very best.

I wish them well.

©2014 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

Published in: on February 4, 2014 at 11:07 am  Comments (2)  
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Ashes to Ashes

It was one of those estates where you could cut the tension with a knife.  It wasn’t necessarily the fault of the last remaining parent who had just died.  It was her son, who was (to put it mildly) a massive pain in the butt.  He was spoiled, discourteous, disrespectful, and just not what you would consider a good person.  Those who know me would tell you I am an exceptional judge of character, whether it be from an intuition I seem to have inherited from mom, or just decades of observing and working with the good and bad side of human nature.  So, how bad could this son really be?

Well, let’s just say he demanded that I sell mom’s very personal items that we would normally dispose of, or wash and donate.  He dug into our donation boxes that had already been taped shut.  “I want every cent I can get out of this estate, so I want you to sell everything including her underwear.  Then I want you to low-ball the values so I don’t have to pay too much in taxes.”  Can you believe this?  Unfortunately, he was serious.

He was a man of significant financial means and was getting ready to inherit much more.  If selling mom’s undergarments wasn’t strange enough (which I refused to do because I believe in preserving the dignity of those no longer with us), we found cremated remains of his father, who had died two decades before, in a foyer cabinet.  As always, I handle remains with much care when we find them.

After consulting with the attorney handling the estate, it was determined that this son should take care of the remains.  When I handed the box of cremated remains to the son, he literally assumed a bowler’s position and threw the box, from several feet away, under the kitchen sink with the Windex and Comet.  Oh my gosh!  If I had not been there to see it, I never would have believed it.

I managed to get the son out of the estate and rescued the remains from the household chemicals.  After reporting this to the lawyer, we decided I should deliver “Mr. Smith’s” remains to the lawyer, who would try to find another family member to scatter the ashes as Mr. Smith wished.  It was the right thing to do.

I vaguely remember telling the law firm that if they could not find a family member, please let me know and I will scatter Mr. Smith.  I felt horrible that this man’s wishes were never fulfilled and that his remains were treated with such disrespect.  Years later, I received a call from the law firm asking me if the offer was still on the table to scatter Mr. Smith.  No family member would come and get him.  Struck speechless and trying to recall this estate from my long-ago memory, I simply replied that I would be happy to honor the last wishes of this man who clearly had no one who would do it for him.

The spoiled, uncaring family, who wasn’t willing to tend to his remains but more than willing to take his money, was a no-show, despite the best efforts of the law firm to come and get Mr. Smith.  It was then legally arranged for me to do this.  I saw to it that Mr. Smith got his final wish, praying over his ashes as a stranger, but one who clearly cared more for him than his own family.  I would want some kind soul to do the same for me.

For decades, his remains floated and were thrown around.  It was time they were released, and they were.  In a gorgeous area and on a perfect day, this stranger lifted a prayer for him, but silently cursed his son under my breath.  I know I should have been a better person than that, but seriously, how low can one go?

Sorry to quote Forrest Gump, but “Sometimes there just aren’t enough words.”

©2013 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

Published in: on November 1, 2013 at 10:28 am  Comments (4)  
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The Bottom Line on Greed

There’s a reason why greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  It eats people alive whether they realize it or not.  The battle between good and evil has been around since the dawn of man.  The Bible is filled with verses about such things.

It’s all about the desire to “possess.”  Possess money, things, people, etc.  It is natural for humans to want more.  But, when is enough, enough?  For some people, there can never be enough.

We see greed at every turn when settling estates.  It is far more common than you realize.  Our smaller homes aren’t good enough so we tear them down and build bigger ones, so we can fill them with more stuff.  When a loved one dies, we are the first to take things from the estate, justifying that these things are a memento or sentimental. 

Then we look at our own homes, and if our eyes are open, we realize we have too much, while there are those out there who have nothing.

Bottom line is: you can’t take it with you! 

Start now by giving away things you don’t need, don’t want, or haven’t used in a while.  So many people need your help and generosity, especially in economic times like these.  Your gift can bring a smile to someone you may never see, but you will feel in your heart.

© 2011 Julie Hall

Published in: on March 14, 2011 at 9:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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