Dec 5, 2014

Holiday Shipping: Hazardous to Your Gifts?

damaged package
If you’re gifting and shipping collectibles for the holidays, I hope you are either very lucky or very well insured.
I recently shipped a First World War artillery-shell lamp and packed it to the point where I thought it was bullet-proof: a layer of paper wrap, tape-reinforced at the lamp’s base and socket, bubble-wrapped, and then double boxed and sealed with strapping tape. My box was clearly marked “fragile” in several places. Nevertheless, the package arrived damaged. The box was torn and crushed, and the lamp was bent.
An artillery shell? Bent? They were made to be fired from a cannon; how could it get bent?
Surely, I thought, this was a fluke. Until last week, that is, when I read a featured article in the current edition of Readers Digest titled “Confessions of a UPS Handler.”
The former UPS handler says that during the holidays “parcel delivery service” is a synonym with “herds of uncomfortable, sleep-deprived people shoving too many boxes into too-little trucks.” Author Sara Ohlms goes on to explain that prior to loading, packages ride on conveyor belts and sometimes log-jams occur where one belt meets another. “When that happens,” says author, “it’s like tripping at the head of a stampede. There’s nothing we can do…but say a prayer.” Read More>>>

Nov 25, 2014

Getting Past "Just Looking"

just looking
The most thought-provoking comment I’ve heard lately came just last week from the mouth of a four-year-old boy.

I was browsing through the men’s department of a mall store when the four-year-old appeared, holding his mother’s hand. A clerk asked the mother: “Can I help you?” and without dropping a beat the young boy replied: “Just looking.” Then the clerk turned and left.

I don’t know which stunned me more, the response of the child or the response of the clerk. Clearly, the boy thought that “just looking” was the proper response to give to a retail clerk; he had probably heard his mother offer the same response dozens of times.

The clerk, too, upon hearing the words turned away, giving no thought to the fact that the words were said to him by a child.

The “can I help you – just looking” scenario is repeated thousands of times per day in retail stores all over the country. No one benefits from such an exchange: the clerk doesn’t make a sale and customer goes away frustrated, with their needs unmet. “Can I help you – just looking” traps both the seller and the buyer in an unproductive relationship.

Sales gurus have claimed for decades that the “just looking” response is a defense mechanism used against what consumers view as “pushy sales persons”. So, the gurus say, sales clerks should not open with the “can I help you” gambit, because it almost certainly assures the “just looking” response. I’m not so sure that this is true. Read more >>>

Nov 22, 2014

American Estates are Gaining Momentum: Will Yours Keep Pace?

Freedom of speech; freedom of religion; freedom to peaceably assemble. The American Bill of Rights was created as a framework for American Society. But the real gem created by the Founding Fathers—the one that truly separated American society from British society—isn’t part of the Social Studies curriculum of any American public school. The hidden gem? Determining how wealth would be passed from one generation to the next.

Despite the best efforts of Thomas Jefferson & Company, though, demographics are about to create the societal imbalance that Jefferson feared back in 1776.

First, a little background: Until the late 19th century, the British laws of primogeniture and entailment limited the passing of estates and titles to a specific line of heir, with the elder son or closest male heir getting most of the bounty. In that way, wealth could be preserved from generation to generation within the same family. The newly formed United States government left estates open to taxation, though, and most of the new U.S. states rejected the concept of entailment altogether. When there was no will involved, states decreed that a decedent’s assets were to be divided equally among his children or closest heirs. North Carolina justified its 1784 inheritance statute by declaring that keeping large estates together for succeeding generations served “only to raise the wealth and importance of particular families and individuals, giving them an unequal and undue influence in a republic.” Read More >>>

Nov 20, 2014

Auction Buyer Beware: Ivory Hazardous to Your Financial Health

Ivory figure
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) recently released a 40-page report titled “Bidding Against Survival: The Elephant Poaching Crisis and the Role of Auctions in the U.S. Ivory Market.” The report is worrisome, because it appears that most U.S. auctioneers haven’t gotten the message that selling undocumented ivory is illegal, and auction buyers don’t seem to have gotten the message, either. These facts, where they know it or not, could be extremely hazardous to their financial health, as buyers of the ivory offered at auction risk the loss of their purchases and additional fines.

Auctioneers wouldn’t be offering ivory if buyers weren’t bidding on it. I just did a quick search on for the keyword “ivory” and found 485 live auctions in the month of October 2014 that were offering ivory for sale in the U.S.

Most auction houses “pass the documentation buck” to the purchasers of ivory. The IFAW report states: “When asked about what kinds of documentation the auction house provided when selling ivory items, several galleries said “none” or that it was up to the buyer to secure such information. One staff member said, “The person needs to take care of themselves, if they buy the ivory.” This was a common attitude among staff at many of the auction houses visited, placing the legal responsibility for following endangered species laws on the customer. In essence, the auction houses are saying “we want to sell you the ivory and get top dollar for it, but we are not willing to provide you with provenance.” Read More >>>

Nov 18, 2014

Who Gets Your Digital Assets When You Die?

Our lives have become digitized and password protected, and when we die, access to our accounts and rights to the contents thereof die with us—unless we make digital access part of our estate plan.
It wasn’t too many years ago that one’s “important papers” were stored in a shoe box, file drawer or safe deposit box; now, business is done online. Retail stores used to have door keys and brick walls, but now online stores are owned by thousands of sole proprietors. Thousands of blogs are filled with author’s intellectual property. Wall-to-wall bookshelves have been replaced by Kindle accounts; photo albums by Picasa accounts. We carry our music collections on an iPad and keep our money in digital wallets, PayPal accounts or Green Dot money cards.

Last month (August 2014), Delaware became the first state to grant estate executors and administrators access to a decedent’s digital assets. Delaware’s House Bill 345, entitled the “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act,” allows executors the same account access held by a decedent. The Delaware bill is modeled after a law proposed by the Uniform Law Commission, an organization that since 1892 has provided state legislatures with legislative drafts designed to provide state-to-state consistency to statutory law. Read More >>>