Oct 15, 2009

Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?

Your teenage grandkids probably don't want to inherit the collectibles you now cherish. but don't despair; the value one places on family heirlooms changes as one matures. To a 15 year old, grandpa's journal is just a dust collector. When that 15 year old reaches 45, the same journal becomes a treasure of family history.
What treasures are stored in your home that you want to pass on to members of your family? Will your family members cherish and enjoy them as much as you do?
In my business as an Estate Property Specialist, I have discovered that deciding who gets Grandpa's baseball glove or Grandma's cookie cutters can be among the most challenging decisions a family can make. Although these items are "just stuff", the personal belongings of a loved one can trigger memories and feelings about the person that once owned the item. I once watched two siblings resort to shouting to see who would get mom's favorite Christmas tree ornament. I have often been told by Estate Attorneys that it is frequently the personal property, not the titled property that causes the most problems when settling an estate.
There are no magic formulas available for deciding "who gets what", but research has identified six steps in the process. They are:
  1. Understand that the gifting of your personal property may have emotional consequences for your family.
  2. Determine what you want to accomplish. Is it your goal to maintain privacy? To have an "equal and fair" distribution? To preserve and care for the item given?
  3. Decide what is "fair" in the context of your family.
  4. Understand that belongings have different meanings for different individuals.
  5. Consider distribution options and consequences.
  6. Agree to manage conflicts if they arise.
Most of all, you have to "decide to decide". After all is said and done, the property is yours and you may do with it as you please. Don't let your family fight over your possessions. Be proactive; discuss the distribution of your property wit your family members, and make a list so that your wishes will be known. My mother spent the last decade of her life discussing with her five children "who would get what". She kept a list, and put a sticker on the bottom of each item so there would be no question as to what her wishes were. Although there was one item that I wanted that went to a sibling, I was comforted to know that mom's wishes were fulfilled.

For those of you with complex family issues, help is available. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has a workbook entitled "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?" that is available by calling the Extension Service at 1-800-876-8636. Also, I teach the "Yellow Pie Plate" workshop, and would be pleased to present it at no charge to your local club, church group, or organization. For information, please visit my website at www.waynejordanauctions.com.

Downsizing Mom

I told my wife that the url for my new blog was going to be "downsizing-mom.com". She grimaced and I got "the look". "Downsizing Mom"? she said; "sounds like a weight loss blog".

She's right, in a sense. Throughout our lives, we tend to accumulate "stuff". Clothes, furniture, appliances, vehicles. We surround ourselves with the things we love. Our "stuff" reflects who we are. As the years go by, "stuff" accumulates. We become "overweight" with our "stuff".

Eventually, we have to get rid of the bulk of what we have accumulated, whether we want to or not. A spouse dies. We grow old and cannot take care of our home. An injury makes us less mobile. We know that the time has come to make a move that will improve our quality of life. At that point, the "stuff" we have accumulated becomes a burden. We are faced with decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. The very thought of packing up a lifetime of memories can be so overwhelming that we often become paralyzed and choose to "stay right where we are". If we are lucky, we get to make the transfer decisions ourselves. If not, the decisions will pass to our children or executor.

Downsizing and/or liquidating an estate is emotionally draining, but it does not have to be a traumatic experience. The keys to success are advance planning and an organized approach. With that in mind, the focus of my future posts will be threefold:
  1. Pre-planning for personal property transfers
  2. How to downsize effectively
  3. Estate Liquidation
Family dynamics will change from family to family. There is no "one size fits all" solution for estate transfers. As we move forward, I hope to hear from some of you. What challenges have you faced in liquidating a loved ones estate? Have you found effective ways to deal with the anxiety? What professionals have you found to be helpful or troublesome?

Somewhere, there is a family whose challenges are just like yours. If solutions can be shared through this blog, we will all benefit.