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Wondering How You’ll Keep Family Peace While Liquidating Your Parents’ Estate? Author of “The Boomer Burden” Offers Tips to Reduce the Stress

August 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Anne Holmes, Blog, Relationships & Family

Whenever a close friend of ours visits his parents, a wonderful couple we have also come to know and love, he inevitably returns with a bit of concerned grumbling about the on-going battle they always have over his efforts purge his parents’ garage of what he sees as a lifetime accumulation of junk.

The punch line is always the same: his father defends this “quasi warehouse” as a collection of treasures, while our friend half-joking threatens that upon their death, he’ll return to clean house with a backhoe!

Happily, I’ve just come upon a fantastic solution to end this family stalemate:

Prior to his next visit, I plan to gift him with a fantastic book, which he, his brother and his parents can read together before jointly working out a plan for the inevitable future.

The book is called “The Boomer Burden – Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff,” by Julie Hall, who is known professionally as The Estate Lady®. Next to infirmity or death, estate settlement is the most stressful challenge a Boomer will go through with their parents, she says, “and often leaves everyone involved feeling upset, resentful and frustrated.”

A professional estate liquidator and certified personal property appraiser, with more than seventeen years experience, Hall is an expert in personal property, specializing in the dissolution of tangible assets. She has seen it all while assisting thousands of individuals in the daunting and often painful process of managing their deceased parents’ affairs.

Many of the 78 million Baby Boomers – whose parents learned how to hoard in order to survive the Depression – are finding themselves having to deal directly with the effects of that mentality.

“Old habits certainly die hard,” she says. “I see it over and over. As Boomers age and their parents become invalided or pass away, the added burden of having to deal with all that stuff left behind is compounded by the fact that their parents once hoarded items of value in order to stay alive and the urge to save and collect ultimately became habitual.”

“When a loved one passes away, and you suddenly find yourself responsible for taking care of all the ‘stuff’ he or she left behind, it’s common behavior to speed the process by thinking ‘when in doubt, throw it out,’” explains Hall. “But too often, families don’t know the value of the inheritance they’re discarding.”

Hall offers her readers an alternative: have family property professionally evaluated and appraised. “I always find a number of precious items easily mistaken by the adult children as trash.”

Worse, Are the Family Fights

Perhaps worse than throwing away treasure in the trash, are the major family disputes that frequently arise during the settlement of an estate. These often tear siblings apart.

(Having personally experienced the impact of several such fights – just last week, my 78-year old mother and her 76-year old sister finally got together again for the first time since they battled over the settlement of my grandmother’s estate twenty years ago – I know just how valuable the advice in this book can be.)

Hall advises that the best place to begin preparing for the inevitable is among the siblings.

She suggests an initial planning meeting limited to siblings – no spouses – be held in a public place as soon as possible – hopefully before signs of parental inability to cope begin to surface. The goal is to discuss the future and make plans together for how to handle it.

And one of the first steps she recommends is for everyone involved to read her book! (I guess that gets everyone “on the same page!”)

Here are a handful of real life examples from Hall’s book

As you read them, I bet your mind will flash to similar situations you’ve personally observed, I know mine did:

  • Elderly woman with advanced Alzheimer’s (husband in back bedroom dying of Parkinson’s) is completely taken advantage of when neighbors and so-called friends come into her home offering to help her with her upcoming move to a nursing home by buying her valuable heirlooms. What she didn’t understand was that they were taking advantage of her mental state – and buying her family treasures at garage sale bargain rates – we’re talking $2,000 worth of sterling silver flatware walking out the door for twenty bucks! The neighbors knew better, but she didn’t. There was nothing the police could do, since she willingly accepted money for her belongings. The items sold for pennies were worth thousands, and her children, totally unaware of what was happening, will never again see the heirlooms they should have inherited.
  • Elderly widower wanders the neighborhood in the middle of a winter night, barefoot and wearing only pajamas. He manages to get into a neighbor’s home. The neighbor initially thinks it’s a burglar, but then recognizes the elderly gentleman and offers him a blanket and sofa to sleep on while they call the police, who contact the man’s adult daughter. Her other sibling is in denial. It’s time for professional assistance.
  • Two siblings inherit millions each and viciously fight over the old Tupperware. Hall gets hit in the head with a flying kettle in the process.
  • Elderly dad has a problem: Two sons, one Civil War firearm passed down for generations. Both sons are already fighting over it. He wonders which he should he give it to – and seriously considers just letting them fight over it after he’s gone.
  • Daughter holds “24/7” vigil by her father’s bedside until his death, rarely letting other siblings in. Everyone thinks this is because she is so close to him. Turns out the real reason for her “devotion” is her desire to “cherry pick” and stash away prized possessions she wants for herself in the basement. When Dad dies and the coroner arrives, the other sibs gather on the first floor comforting Mom while daughter is in the basement, funneling her stash to her car.
  • Wealthy woman, blind and suffering from Alzheimer’s, daily decks herself out in her fantastic jewelry collection. The heirs ask to have the diamonds removed and replaced with CZ’s, but before the request can be carried out, the caregiver steals the jewelry while the woman naps. (For good measure, they also took a crock pot.)
  • Son who’s just lost his aging parents decides to donate a pair of “really ugly” vases to Good Will. Recognizing them for the collector’s items they are, Hall rescues the vases. And sells them at auction for over $60,000.

The Boomer Burden is available in highly affordable paperback ($10.19 USD) from Amazon.com. I highly recommend it, because it will teach you to:

  • Divide your parents’ estate with peace of mind
  • Minimize fighting with siblings during the estate settlement process
  • Clear out the family home in 10 days or less
  • Identify potential items of value in the family home
  • Plan how to have “that conversation” with your parents
  • Prepare yourself and your children for the future
  • Plus it’s got fantastically comprehensive checklists, spreadsheets and resource lists.

Don’t wait! Ease the potential for anxiety.

Order yourself a copy right now. And while you’re at it – get a copy for each of your siblings too! They’ll thank you for starting the difficult discussion of how your parents estate ought to be settled. Here’s that convenient link again: The Boomer Burden – Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff.