Chat @ Care-giving: Treasures or Trash?

Still smarting from the Salvation Army’s caviler attitude towards my Mom’s gorgeous clothes, I found myself staring at the furniture which filled the rear of our storage unit.  What was I going to do with all of that?

We’d already been down this road a few times.  I’d sorted through my aunt’s belongings three years before, finding homes for most of her furnishings and a lion’s share of her clothes.  A few months later, I downsized Mom and Dad to an independent living apartment out of their home of four decades.  Just over a month ago, I sifted through Mom’s stuff again.  She was never going to return to her apartment, so we were storing her things until we knew which assisted living facility she would be moving to.  In the process we donated a bedroom suite and desk to one charity and gave a recliner to one of my bestie’s sons.

Since there was a long waiting list for my mom’s apartment, we rushed the move to maximize our refund and took everything to the storage facility.  I planned on sorting through it when we moved her into assisted living, but we never made it that far.  So, after the funeral, my first job was to sort through everything in storage and figure out what was there.

Some of it was easy.  The half full box of cereal – trash.  A shoe box full of used insoles – trash.  A gallon Ziplock bag of dental floss told me Mom didn’t floss as she should, but there was no reason we should ever have to buy any more – ever!  We also have a lifetime supply of Q-tips, cotton balls and Kleenex.

Some of it would be a treasure to anyone.  Mom collected porcelain and crystal whatnots.  I didn’t hesitate a moment in claiming the Lladro, Royal Doulton and such to display in my house – but I did share with my sister, my cousins and a few friends, albeit reluctantly.  Same with her jewelry.  The fine jewelry I split with my sister and the costume I spread between us, my cousins and those good friends.  My sister placed dubs on the Frankoma Ware, the lamps and Mom’s art.  I wanted a Queen Anne desk with display case and an etergere to show off my new treasures.

Still there was a five piece bedroom suite, a dining set with hutch and various living room furniture.  Acutely aware of how hard my parents worked to amass these belongings and cognizant of the fact that this was the good stuff – not that cheap stuff they pass off as furniture some places, I assumed that consigning it was a good idea.

I took lots of pictures and emailed them off to some of the better consignment stores I knew of.  From time to time Bill and I will redecorate and drop off a mirror or a chair.  We’ve had good luck.  We’ve also shopped at consignment stores and found some real winners.  Well, when you own your own moving company, I guess consignment is a good idea, but it wasn’t working out so well in this case.

The calls came in.  Yes, they’d like to sell my mom’s stuff.  All I needed to do was deliver it to them.  I knew that was the case for the odd piece I’d consigned before, but this was virtually an apartment-ful of furniture and I’d already moved it once.  No, they wouldn’t give any estimates on value of things they hadn’t seen in person.  No, they wouldn’t come to the storage unit to look it over.  The gamble was all mine – and when I delivered it, I not only had to agree to whatever price they wanted to put on it, but I had to agree to their markdown schedule.  Either that or pay to take it back to the storage unit and continue to pay for storing it.

It sounded like I did all the work and took all the risks, only to net out less than half of whatever price the consignment store eventually got.  This wasn’t sounding so good after all.

So maybe letting it go in one of the storage auctions was a better answer.  The lady at the storage place came down and guesstimated that I might net out $150-375 for the lot of it.  Was she kidding?  We’d paid more than $375 for the small dining set from IKEA and it still looked brand new.  I understood that the furniture wasn’t as valuable to them as it was to me, but I’d prefer to use it for kindling at those prices.

I posted the furniture on facebook and one of my friends was dying for it, but she’s in Wales and moving on to Canada from there.  She wasn’t sure when or if she’d actually manage to get to Dallas to pick it up.  The way things were going, I wouldn’t have minded giving it to her, but I couldn’t afford to store it until some time in perpetuity, so that was a no go, too.

If no one in the immediate family or my cousins could use these treasures, maybe someone in the wider family could.  I’ve made that call and sent the pictures.  I’m waiting to hear back.

Anyone need any kindling?

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Chat @ Care-giving: Executrix of the Will

I know I’m lucky. My sister doesn’t give me any lip about anything I’m doing concerning Mom’s estate. In fact, she actually appreciates it all. It’s the rest of the world that’s giving me fits.

Let’s start with notifying all the interested parties that Mom’s passed away.  This is not a jolly task by anyone’s stretch of the imagination.  Making calls and navigating phone trees is just about one of my least favorite things in the world, even if what I’m doing bears no relation to a loved one’s death.  Doing so to tell the world my mom died puts it in the column of tortuous.

I’ll begin with the kudos.  Once I actually got through to a human, the government OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and Blue Cross Blue Shield were actually quite wonderful to deal with.  Fidelity Investments has a whole department set aside to handle these calls.  Sympathy was extended and I could hear care in the voices of those I spoke with.  Same with Farmer’s Insurance.

That wasn’t so with some places I called.  For instance, canceling my mom’s store cards.  You know JCPenney’s, Dillard’s etc.  In this age of identity theft, cancelling these accounts is as important as notifying Social Security (the funeral home handles that for you).  Here’s the problem, store credit cards are handled by GE Credit and they’re not very nice.  You know who handles the cancellation of an account when someone dies?  The collection department!  Need I say more?

And you can’t cancel all the accounts with one call.  First you have to go through the individual store’s customer service department and then they transfer you to the mean GE people, where yet another rude collection agent shakes you down.  Perhaps if my Mom’s accounts were in arrears, this might have been necessary, but Mom and Dad always paid off their accounts, in full, as soon as they got the bill.  And to boot, she’s been on the medical merry-go-round for so long that it had been months since she’d used any of the cards.  In essence, I was doing them a favor by notifying them, but they thought the shoe was on the other foot.

There was one store that handled things differently and that was Macy’s.  I was able to cancel the card with no hassle what so ever and got a confirmation letter in the mail.  I’ve never been a big fan of Macy’s.  I’ve sort of been mad ever since they took over Foley’s, but I see them in a whole new light.  I may just have to start buying things there.

Handling other financial institutions, like banks and that sort of thing has been fairly painless.  (Accolades go to Capital One, Comerica and Fidelity.)  They all seemed to understand that this was an unpleasant task and did their best to make it easier.

Then came the donations.  First, I want to let you know about a great resource.  I had a wide variety of medical equipment, from a wheelchair and wheeled walker to other tools to assist the aged and handicapped.  I wanted to be sure these things would go to someone who actually needed it, so I hit the internet.  I discovered DME Exchange of Dallas.  They accepted donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so on the appointed day I loaded bath chairs, potty chairs and all the other stuff into the car -banging myself in the head pretty good along the way.  (Can you get a concussion from a walker to the face?)

I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this as I drove across town with a throbbing forehead.  I found the place in a nondescript office complex and went in to figure out the drill.  I suddenly became very important.  The workers in the office were thrilled that I’d brought them some equipment.  One lady was so grateful she cried and the other one was in ecstasy.  Every item I donated was something they desperately needed.  Boy, did that little chore feel good.

The next day I met that charity that does “the most good” at the storage facility.  Things didn’t go as well with that.  I’ll tell you about that another day.

Chat @ Caregiving: They’re Not Just Things

Today is moving day. We’re not sure where Mom will be moving to, but we do know it won’t be back to independent living.  Under those circumstances, her apartment would be a very expensive place to store things.  The business part of me understands that, but the emotional side is having a tough time.

See her stuff is not just stuff.  Her belongings are a memorial.  Don’t get me wrong.  Mom’s life means a lot more to me than the things she has managed to obtain, but the furnishings of her life do represent the things she loves best. Take all those wardrobe boxes of clothes.  I know right now that she won’t be able to get all of them into the closet of an assisted living apartment, but how do I go about choosing which ones to keep and which to throw away?

Mom grew up in the Depression.  It was tough for everyone, but several things made it tougher for her than it was for some other folks.  Her clothes were the armor she wore to face the world.  If she managed to dress like everyone else, then she felt she would fit in better.  She never told me this, but after decades of her fanatical interest in what I had on, I figured it out.  Multiply that mindset by a career in retail and you know why she has eight wardrobe boxes of clothes, a rolling rack and a couple of boxes and suitcases.  I know it’s been years since she wore some of them, but she’s like the armorer in a castle.  You don’t throw away perfectly good swords just because they go out of style.  You never know when they’ll be just the thing for a certain battle.

Maybe this would have been easier if it hadn’t been just a couple of years ago that I went through the process of downsizing my parents from a house to  a two bedroom apartment.  Now Dad’s gone and the independent phase of Mom’s life is over,  I have to sift through it all again.

In some cases it feels like chopping off my hands.  Dad was a snorer and had long ago been exiled to a separate bedroom.  In the apartment, he slept on the bed they shared during all the years they did sleep together.  I joke that it’s the bed I was conceived in, and Mom’s never corrected me, so maybe I’m right.  To the rest of the world, the bedroom suite is a not-so-gently used collection of mid-century Early American furniture.  Nobody except a homeless shelter had any interest in it. To me, it’s the first time my dad ever bought anything on credit.  He didn’t want to go into debt, so he got a second job to pay off the loan early.  To me, it represented home in all the houses we lived in, as we moved around due to Dad’s job.  I can only imagine what it meant to Mom.  When she asked me what was being done with it, I had to tell her the truth and I could tell it was a physical blow.

Letting go of other items feels like ripping out my heart.  My dad was a sports fanatic.  Not in the sense of being a fan of any particular team.  He was interested in everything from peewee football to the senior golf tour, but baseball was his particular favorite.  He liked to watch baseball, but he liked to hear the commentary on the radio.  How many hours of my life have I watched my dad cheer on the Rangers?  He’d have the TV on and in his ear would be the plug from the radio.  Long before there were sports bars, my dad would line up all the TV’s in the house in the den and have various sports on them – and the earplug would be in his ear.  The radio is in the room of items we plan to donate, but I don’t know if I’ll actually let it go.

And you ask, “So what’s the big deal?  Why don’t you just keep the radio?”  If you did ask that then you’re one of the folks who doesn’t realize just how much stuff I’ve collected from my family in the last few years.  First, from Aunt Edie and then from my parent’s house.  There really is just not enough room for me to keep anything else… but maybe the radio wouldn’t take up so much room after all.

See, the radio has other memories attached to it.  My dad faithfully listened to Rush Limbaugh.  I’m no fan of the self-important blowhard myself, but my dad was. George didn’t use the earplug to listen, so bits and pieces of Limbaugh’s loud mouth opinions were impossible to avoid.  I confess, I now listen to Rush, if he’s on when I’m in the car.  Even if some (certainly not all) of his Conservative views do line up with mine, I detest his presentation.  However, by listening, I can imagine the conversations Dad and I would have – therefore, I listen.

So, it’s moving day today and I know that I’m holding on to more than I should, but how can I let more go?  After all, they’re not just things.

Chat@Caregiving: The Estate Planning School of Hard Knocks

The other day I took a huge giant step in estate management for my parents. We finally moved their assets into a trust.   There are a lot of reasons to take this step, but part of our motivation was to relieve my mom of the burden of managing their assets. Though she was glad to be rid of the worry, it was also difficult for her to let go of the control.  All the legal documents had been signed and the accounts were set up.  It was time to move the assets.

When the day was over, I felt a real sense of accomplishment, but I also felt like I’d just run a ninety-nine yard touchdown.  I looked back over the past few months and decided I’d share a few financial lessons with you that I had to learn in the Estate Planning School of Hard Knocks.

1.  Things change when your back is turned.  Every step along the way, from the moment my parents indicated they might be ready to downsize and get some help with their investing, to transferring the assets to the trust, there was a lot of research for me to do.  I’d discover everything I thought I needed to know about something and then I’d present the findings to the family.  Next would be the inevitable lag.  In my research I would discover something that had to be done before we could take the next step or my parents would balk at what needed to be done or the timing was wrong or whatever.  When I overcame whatever obstacles we encountered, I’d learn that something along the way had changed.  Either they’d lowered the interest, changed the qualifying amount, raised the deposit, discontinued the fund or something.  Often that meant that a move which had once been a viable choice, was now not going to work and I’d have to go back to the drawing board.  The bottom line – watch for and expect changes.  Just because you knew the answer to a question last week or last month doesn’t mean anything today.

2. Nice people aren’t always nice.  We talked to a lot of people along the way and you can’t help but like some of them better than others.   You also can’t help trusting someone you like more than someone you don’t connect with.  However, that whole liking thing can get you into trouble.  We were days away from putting a lot of money into an annuity, because we felt really comfortable with the financial adviser.  (I’m not warning you away from annuities, there are good ones and bad ones.)  Virtually on the eve of setting up the account, my husband asked one more question.  I liked the financial guy and I’ll confess I was impatient with Bill, because it felt almost as if he were being needlessly tedious about the details.  However, had Bill not asked that question, we would have made a huge mistake.  Maybe the guy really was giving us what he thought was good advice or maybe it was just the changes in the economy since we began the discussion, but if we’d have just gone forward trusting this nice guy, we’d have been paying more in commissions than we would have made in returns.  You can trust somebody about places to eat or movies to see, but don’t trust anyone when it  comes to money – especially if they are nice.

3. Trusts are weird.  The word “trust” is a game changer.  You’ll likely need a new tax id#.  You’ll need completely different documentation to set up accounts.  You’re paid completely different amounts of interest.  The list goes on and on.  We only set up accounts for the trust in we institutions we already had accounts with.  We knew the drill.  Correction – we THOUGHT we knew the drill.  Bottom line – before you talk to anyone about accounts for a trust, be sure whoever you’re talking to knows that you are a trustee who wants to set up an account for a trust.  It’ll save you a lot of time and frustration.

I could go on and on, but beyond these three golden nuggets, we’re getting into specifics and there are no universal answers.  However, if you remember (1) things change, (2) nice people can get you in trouble and (3) trusts are weird; you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Do you have an estate planning nugget you want to share?