Who Gets Your Folks’ Belongings?

(The following is excerpted from my book, How to Clean Out Your Parents’ House (Without Filling Up Your Own), just 99 cents today at Amazon.)

Going through a parent’s estate is a minefield for families. At a time when family members are at their most emotional and vulnerable, they have to make decisions that can cause all sorts of dissension and stress… unless their late parent left specific instructions regarding who gets their belongings. In the majority of cases, that didn’t happen.

So most families have the job of fairly and amicably working out who gets what. There are some good procedures for doing this, and we’ll get to them in a moment. But first, let’s look at some of the bombs that may go off as we tiptoe our way through this minefield:

Greed: Unfortunately, death triggers the greed gene in some people. You may be surprised at who gets greedy amongst your own clan. It might even be you.

Denial: One of the stages of grief, denial during the disposition of the estate takes the form of someone not wanting to disturb the estate: not now or next week, or ever. (Afterwards, this person often wants to take home all the trash and everything else no one wants, in an effort to “save what’s left of the estate.”)

Control: One or more family members try to take control of the proceedings, even if they have no claim for doing so.

Laziness: As the scope of the job becomes apparent, some family members decide they’re not up for it, and leave. But they’ll expect checks for their share of the proceeds just the same. In a similar vein, it’s often a family member who can’t or won’t go through the estate (or research, sell and ship any of it) that thinks it’s all too valuable to just give away.

Regression: Seeing parents’ possessions often triggers childhood memories, and childhood rivalries as well. Adults who are only a few years apart suddenly start behaving like big sister and little sister, complete with bossiness and whining.

Impatience: One or more family members who are understandably eager to get back to their own lives decide to just pitch everything in order to save time. This doesn’t go over well with those who are more sentimental, or those who know there are items of monetary value in the estate.

Vendettas: Old sibling rivalries and disagreements flare up, resulting in those with vendettas taking anything the subjects of their ire might want, even if they don’t like it, just so the “undeserving” don’t get it.

(Only children, are you beginning to realize the plus side of your situation yet?)

If the family is a blended family, complications abound. And of course, the estate is often larger because it may include some or all of the first spouse’s belongings as well as the second spouse’s.

So, how do we traverse such a minefield? Some ground rules are in order:

  • No one removes anything from the estate without the other heirs’ consent. (It’s the executor’s job to enforce this rule.)
  • Choose a date for going through the estate that works for every single heir.
  • Stay calm if a fight breaks out.
  • Have a mediator present if you expect trouble. A trusted and loved extended family member is often the best choice, but if that’s not an option, you can always hire someone. (Find a mediator in your state at www.mediate.com.)
  • The presence of your parent’s attorney will be helpful if the estate is especially valuable, but expect him/her to charge the estate for the time this takes.
  • As mentioned earlier, restrict the meeting to heirs only. (Naturally, heirs should consider the desires of their own families when they’re choosing items. They can even send photos and texts to gauge interest in specific objects.)
  • Don’t allow sudden and immediate disposal of the estate. One relative may be content with keeping only their memories and urges everyone else to quickly pitch the estate, but doing so might leave others in shock and regret that they didn’t take the time to go through it. Everything must be done fairly, even though it will take more time.  Besides, someone in a rush could end up getting rid of something very valuable. Convince them to hire an appraiser, which will buy time for the group to go through things.

Next up: How to Divide an Estate Fairly Between Heirs

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Clutter as a Protective Device

When someone has too much clutter, they need to consider why they keep so much stuff when it bothers them.

Usually, the clutter is protecting them from something. It may be keeping them from having to make decisions. As long as you ignore all your clutter, you don’t have to decide what to do with it all. Many people with too much clutter are also perfectionists; they think that their stuff needs to go to just the right places. The thought of making all those decisions of where to send each thing becomes overwhelming, so it’s easier to just postpone the whole effort and keep tripping on the clutter.

Another thought: your clutter might be a distraction from yourself. If you didn’t have all these someday projects lying around, you might have to focus on yourself and your life instead of all that other stuff waiting for you to do something with it.

Or perhaps the clutter serves as a buffer between you and the outside world. You keep people out because you don’t want them to see what a mess you live in. It’s a handy dandy excuse for not having people over.

There may be other reasons, but one thing is for sure: the clutter is serving some kind of purpose for you. Otherwise you would get rid of it, since it bothers you. Figure out why you keep it, and you’ll be one step closer to getting rid of it.

What We Can Do About Our Beastly Government

Some big news this week is that we pay more for taxes than for food and clothing. This is not surprising, and has been going on for quite a while. The fact is that most people are so busy trying to make ends meet that they don’t have time to stop and think why life is so hard, or what is to blame.

It’s interesting that this article, based on information from the BLS, doesn’t mention health insurance. People are literally paying thousands a year for health insurance, even if they’re fortunate enough not to have to use it. Since we’re being forced to do it, I wonder if it’s included in the totals for tax? I recently read a comment someone made to the effect that their health insurance payment is higher than their mortgage payment. I believe that, but how sad is it when a country forces its people to buy something they may not need, and at a higher monthly charge than what they pay for their housing?

Something has to change. Aside from revolution, which is being talked about in various corners of the Internet, is there a peaceful way to solve this problem? We try voting in new people who want to effect change, but something happens to them once they’re in power and they become even bigger spenders than those they replaced.

What else can be done? I think we have to stop financially supporting the government. No, I don’t mean tax evasion.  I mean tax avoidance. Make less money so you pay less in taxes.

Many people think this can’t be done. They have no concept of how they would live without making a certain level of income. But you can live on far less than you think you can, with a little ingenuity and forethought. In fact, there are people who live in this country who pay very little taxes…and they’re not on government assistance, either.

Some people call this starving the beast. I think there are all kinds of beasts that need to be starved (government is at the top of the list). When you stop giving money to groups who are hurting you or making it harder for you to exist, you feel better and life starts becoming easier again.

It feels like we have so little power to change things in this world; truly, we can only change our own behavior. But when we do only that, it’s amazing what can happen.

One Way to Overcome High Housing Costs and Low Pay

As the economy gets harder to live with in some areas, people are coming up with unique ways to survive financially. School buses are often the choice of those who want to work with their hands to make a portable home for their family, so that they can go where the work is without leaving their family behind.

I think we will see more of this as long as incomes fail to keep up with living expenses.