Chat @ Care-giving: Help Along the Way

While I’m on the subject of recommendations, let me make a couple more. Abrams-Skillman Self Storage and The Consignment Embassy.

Remember back in September when I had to hurry up and get my Mom’s stuff stored so we could get the maximum refund on her independent living apartment?  Well, I researched the locations and Mr. Bill compared the financial offers and we ended up at Abrams-Skillman Storage.

At first it was just a storage place, albeit a nice clean one with what Bill thought was the best prices.  We picked out a unit and the next day we put everything from Mom’s apartment into it.  The next time I thought about it was after the funeral.  Unfortunately that was a lot sooner than I anticipated.

Next thing I know, I’m sorting through things and deciding what to do with all of them.  I was there day after day and soon felt sort of like a regular.  The staff and I always greeted each other warmly and if I needed something, either they had something to borrow or to buy that would help me get out of whatever bind I’d sorted myself into.  They were helpful in other ways.  They kept trying to figure out what I needed before I needed it, like pointing out that the loading dock was right across from my unit and stuff like that.

Then we were down to the nitty gritty.  We asked about the auctions and they filled us in.  Then we needed an extra storage place for a day, while the auction guy did his thing, because we were saving the bedroom suite for a family member.  No problemo – they gave me one right next to my original unit and when the auction was over, they let me stay in the one that I’d moved the furniture into.  All that was very helpful and they really didn’t have to do it.  The fact that I only made $150 off the auction items wasn’t their fault.  Obviously the Storage Wars gang didn’t show up for my auction, but somebody made a killing.

Then there was The Consignment Embassy.  We’d actually consigned a mirror there once and the transaction went very smoothly.  I never went in, but Bill said they had gorgeous stuff. Anyway, out of the ten or so consignment places I dealt with, she’s one of the few that responded in a timely manner and she was the only one willing to take a stab at value before I’d hauled it to her store front.  If you’re on either side of a consignment deal, I’d recommend starting there.

If you get stuck in a place where you need some of these services, these are my recommendations.  Hope they can help you out.



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?

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 @ Care-giving: Feng Shui and the Estate Sale

One of the first things I did when I moved to California was go to a Feng Shui class.  Realizing I’d moved to a more esoteric state than Texas, I wanted to get in touch with my spiritual side.  Like Wikipedia, which explains the history of Feng Shui and all its baguas, the class was quite interesting, but most of what it taught I filed away in the “I’ll never use this again” category.

However, somewhere in all the discussion about good and bad energy and what my sliding glass door had to do with my tendency to spend too much money, the Feng Shui specialist got my attention.  She talked about going through your home and sorting out your belongings into three categories:  keep, get rid of and maybe.

Having just moved, I was very familiar with those three categories.  This lady suggested the sorting part of moving should become an everyday event in my life.  She had a method for sorting mail, storing groceries and pretty much any other job we usually do without even thinking about it.

The “maybe” part was the toughest.  Once you’d made your three piles, you’d return the belongings you wanted to keep to their proper place (and feng shui had a lot to say about what was proper).  Next you disposed of the “get rid of pile” by donating the items, selling them or throwing them away.  Then you returned to that “maybe” pile and repeated the above process until there was no “maybe” pile.

During my move, the “maybe” pile had been part of my “to keep” pile, because I’d never been to a Feng Shui class.  As soon as the class was over, I headed to my closet and tossed out a load of emotional baggage.  Over the years, I have incorporated a lot of what the Feng Shui specialist said into my daily life – especially the part about “repeat as needed.”  I’ve developed a sixth sense about clutter.  As soon as I feel my energy bogging down, I seek out the offending junk drawer or overcrowded closet.  I probably wouldn’t qualify for a red door, because my baguas still need a lot of work, but the Feng Shui specialist would love the way I dispense with clutter.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with my Mom’s estate sale.  Well, in truth, a lot.  After six years in California, I moved back to Texas and Feng Shui’d my mother.  This has to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.  We went through her shed, attic and garage, as well as some of the cabinets in the house.  We had a yard sale and I carted the remains of the sale to a local charity.

Mom was glad for the help, but she wasn’t crazy about Feng Shui.  Forget the “maybe” pile.  Her three piles were sell, keep and throw away,  This would  have been fine if the “maybe” pile had been equally distributed between those three categories, but for Mom, all “maybe” items were immediately classified as keepers.

The other problem she had with Feng Shui was the giving it away part.  She was happy to turn infrequently used items into cash, but if no one was going to buy them, she really wanted to put them back into the shed.

What I failed to do for Mom, that has kept me clutter-free, was the whole “repeat as needed” part.  After clearing out her most offending clutter, I let her spend the next five years replacing it with new stuff.

So, after moving Mom and Dad into Whiterock Court, I had to return to their house and finish the job I’d started five years before.  As I write this today, I’m just on the other side of the estate sale.  The charity truck pulled away from my parent’s house and now the rooms are emptied of forty years of a sixty year marriage.

Along the way, I had some very sweet moments and some pretty challenging problems.  I also learned a few lessons along the way, that I might be able to help you avoid.  So, for the next few weeks, follow along as I tell you about getting ready for the estate sale.

By the way, do you feng shui?

Chat @ Care-giving: Call the Estate Sale Consultant First

All I have to say in my defense is that I’d never done this before. I had a pretty good idea about how long it takes to clean out a closet or pack for a move, but getting ready for an estate sale was brand new territory.

I watched a few television shows where a lady who ran estate sales up in Canada brought in a large crew and got ready for an estate sale in a matter of days, but in every one of the shows I saw, the owner of the estate sale property was completely out of the picture.  The family who hired the estate sale company had spent weeks or months trying to get a handle on what they had and then called the estate sale company in desperation or complete frustration.

That wasn’t my case.  I’d removed what my parents needed in their new apartment at the retirement center, but that had barely made a dent in what they’d collected in sixty years of marriage, forty years of which had been spent in the same home.  A few closets were empty and there was some furniture missing, but wandering through the house, it still felt like they lived there.

Not knowing how long it would take to go through everything and glean out the items my sister and I would want to keep, I just got started.  I cleared everything out of the den.  Then I put the dining room table and the breakfast room table in there and started sorting.  I began by opening up Mom’s cedar chest, because she had warned me it had the greatest concentration of family treasures.

Even though I’d prohibited Mom from “helping” me get ready for the estate sale, I felt as if she were right at my elbow watching every decision I made about what to keep, what to sell and what to throw away.  I slowly but surely made my way through every item in the house and then I called the estate sale lady.  That was a mistake.

I moved Mom and Dad into Whiterock Court on the first Saturday in October and a few weeks later I’d made my way through all the belongings we’d left in their house.  Since I’d done the hard work, going through everything and sorting it into categories like linen, dishes, furniture, books etc., all that was left was putting it into attractive displays for the sale and marking prices on it.  I figured we’d clean the house out by Thanksgiving.  I was wrong.

I’d been collecting names of estate sale companies and getting referrals, so when I decided I’d done all I could at Mom’s house, I started making calls.  The first call was a reality check.  The earliest they could work me into my schedule would be February.  FEBRUARY???  I’d been hoping to put it on the market and have a tenant moved in by February.  There were several people who would do it January, but finally I found someone who’d had a cancellation and could start right after Thanksgiving and hold the sale in early December.

So, the moral of this estate sale saga is CALL THE ESTATE SALE LADY FIRST!!  If you’ve been through this little exercise, do you have any helpful hints?

Chat @ Care-giving: Knowing When to Just Say No

I haven’t been the perfect kid, but more often than not, even when I couldn’t be obedient to what my parents wanted, I at least wanted to be respectful. After five decades of this, I’m not really very good at disagreeing with them.

This is probably the reason it took me so long to convince them to move into a retirement center.  However, in spite of the resistance I dealt with, I didn’t have to face any challenges like, “You never listen to what I say,” because they knew I really do listen and care deeply.

In the weeks immediately before they moved, I was hyper-sensitive to them.  I didn’t want a petty disagreement over something trivial to turn into a showdown about their impending lifestyle change.  However, once they were moved in I had to toughen up.

The first thing I had to put my foot down about was Mom “helping” me get ready for the estate sale.  Let me tell you, when faced with forty years of collected clutter, you’re going to want to have all the help you can get.  Friends, siblings, spouses and even hired help can be of great assistance, but not your mom (or dad or aunt or whatever).

The first person who benefited from my adamant refusal to let Mom help me was Mom.  She had been reluctant to move to retirement living and daily visits to her old home to clear out closets would only have depressed her further.   Leaving a house or giving up a home is a hard thing to do, even if you are excited about where you are moving to or the reasons for the move.  If the move is one you didn’t want to make in the first place, one that was forced on you by old age, the regret is going to be even stronger.

However, there was an even more important reason to exclude her from the project.  You can’t focus on building a new life when you’re caught up in the old.  Mom needed to learn the routine at Whiterock Court.  She needed to figure out her way around the facility.  Most of all she needed to make new friends.  Because she wasn’t at her old house wallowing in memories and grieving over chewed pencils and loose pen caps, she was adjusting to her new life.  At the end of a week or two she had established a regular table of friends to sit with at meals and was keen on making it to bingo at 3:45.

I benefited, also.  I’ll confess that I don’t play well with others.  I like to set my own pace and I don’t delegate well.  I dig into a job and make mid-course adjustments on the fly.  Because I was on my own, I was in charge.  If Mom had been there, I would have had to acquiesce to her wishes.  I would have had to tippy-toe around and be thoughtful of her feelings.  This would have slowed me down and been a continuous source of irritation.

Decisions are easier to make with a committee of one.  Mom is both practical and sentimental – a scary combination.  She saved everything for one or both of those reasons.  Everything, from a tarnished silver champagne cup to an assortment of used plastic combs, had value to her.  My goal was to save anything of significant sentimental value for the family, to collect everything of monetary value for the estate sale and to toss the rest.  I say significant sentimental value, because I was amazed how sentimental I could get about almost everything.  I could only imagine how Mom would have reacted.

When you move someone into a new situation like a retirement center or assisted living facility, for their sake, give them the opportunity to engage fully in their new lifestyle as soon as possible, but you’ll reap the most benefits.  You’ll  move faster through the project and save yourself from an emotional quagmire with no happy endings.  At least, that’s how it worked with me.

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?