10 Tips for Proactively Dealing with Your Parents’ Property

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As an estate expert who specializes in the dissolution and distribution of personal property, Julie Hall has spent her life helping families deal with their loved ones’ “lifetime accumulation of stuff.” While dealing with estate matters can be a confusing and emotionally challenging experience, here are 10 tips from The Estate Lady herself to help you be proactive and take action now to help de-clutter a parent’s home or your own.

1. Have that important conversation with your parents and/or children. With such a challenging topic, always approach with compassion and care, and talk with them about their final wishes. Ask and gain an understanding about their financial situation. Be sure to know where all the important and legal documents are. It is equally wise to start talking with your children so they will not be left to guess your wishes.

2. Start to de-clutter your home and your parent’s home. They may not like this, but we can say that we’re helping them “thin out” the stuff. The clutter can be both a fire danger and tripping hazard. Remove food that is expired. Also go through linens and kitchenware that are no longer used. Remove the multitude of Cool Whip containers, peanut butter jars, pie tins, etc., that are no longer used. Believe me, it’s much easier to do now rather than later when you may be in a crisis mode.

3. Discuss and document allocation of personal property and heirlooms. Create a wish list and have an appraiser assess value of the special items. The goal is to keep the tally equitable and fair among siblings and heirs. Better yet, suggest “gifting” of special items while still alive to minimize fighting among heirs later.

4. Tell Mom or Dad you are helping them “thin out” the house, and every time you leave the house, take a few bags of donation items with you with you. I always say “dress the less fortunate.” If your parents would like to get involved, have them help you and drop these items off at your charity of choice.

5. If your parent has already moved out of the house or passed away, begin the begin the process of clearing out the house by starting from process of clearing out the house by starting from the attic and working your way down to the basement. Then, use four separate piles (or rooms) to keep things organized: one for donation, one for “to sell” items, one for keep items, and one for discard.

6. When in doubt, always have a personal property appraiser evaluate antiques and items you’d like to know more about. I love to share the true story about finding a $50,000 vase among a laundry basket of items that a family was going to toss. In my book, The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff, I talk about a small painting the family considered so ugly that no one wanted it; yet it was valued at over $100,000.

7. Continue to keep in touch with siblings and keep everyone on the same page. From my experience, this should be a guiding principle in all conversations and all decisions. It is the only way that the whole family will keep their relationships strong and healthy through it all. No possession, no matter what the sentimental or monetary value, is worth destroying family relationships.

8. Make sure you have passwords, keys or codes to everything. Also know also know the locations of important documents.

9. Build local trusted resources within the community within the community. You never know when you will need them. This is especially true if you live at a distance from your parents.

10. Always come from a place of love. In the end, life is much, much more than the things or the stuff we own. It’s about the wonderful relationships within our families. That is what is priceless and irreplaceable.