As I noted here, I’ve been having trouble leaving comments at other WP.com blogs. This makes it very hard to join the community. So I’ve switched to self-hosted WP. Come on over and say hi at my new blog; hopefully I’ll be able to comment on yours now, too!
This story about a company in Missouri that builds tiny houses has an interesting lede: a family is selling their big house and moving into a tiny house even though they can afford the big house. The reason? The big house eats up so much money that they haven’t been able to go on a vacation in seven years. They’ve decided to live debt-free and be able make memories instead of spending all their cash on a big, impressive home.
I get it. I used to live in a big house. It was a great place to raise our large family, but it cost a lot in upkeep, utilities and (especially) property taxes. So I understand where the woman in the article is coming from. I imagine that no matter how much you love your house, when it begins to keep you from doing other things you want to do, you start to fall out of love with it.
I suspect this woman may find her new digs to be a little constrained. She might be better off buying something a bit larger than a tiny house, but more affordable than her current large home. In any case, we’re seeing more and more of this sort of thing as people try to stay afloat financially and enjoy life at the same time.
The challenge of dividing belongings (especially valuables) is that whether they’re worth more in cash, memories or both, many items are often wanted by more than one person.
In an ideal world, a parent already gave items to those they wanted to have them or made a list of items going to specific people, along with an explanation of why they made the choices they did. But that doesn’t usually happen. What’s more common is when foggy elderly people verbally promise one item to more than one person, resulting in conflict between heirs, sooner or later.
If you’re dealing with a living estate and want to eliminate future conflicts, you may be tempted to ask your parent to assign items to their heirs now and explain their choices. But that might be too much pressure for them, or they may no longer be mentally capable of doing so.
Whether it’s a living or inherited estate, when dividing your parent’s belongings, you’ll need to at least try to prevent fights among heirs. While it’s not always possible to be perfectly fair, everyone should try to keep everything above board and to aim for fairness.
Here are 14 methods for dividing estates that have worked for other families. Choose whichever ones fit your situation best:
You Bought It, You Take It Back
Let everyone take back anything they gave to your parent. This includes birthday, anniversary and holiday gifts, plus anything they made for them. If they don’t want it back, it becomes part of the estate that others may want, or it can later be sold.
Heirs take turns choosing one item each until everyone has at least a few things they want. Order of choice can be based on birth order, by drawing straws or by throwing dice. This works especially well if the estate contains items that have more sentimental value than monetary value.
Take a Chance
Each time two or more heirs want an item, settle it by drawing cards (high card wins) or by throwing dice (highest total wins).
(Discover 11 more methods in my book, How to Clean Out Your Parents’ House (Without Filling Up Your Own), just 99 cents right now.)
I haven’t been here at WordPress.com for all that long, and I don’t think I’ll stick around.
I’ve found that when I comment at someone else’s blog, my comment disappears. This has happened several times, and it’s very disheartening, because I like to respond to thoughtful prose with thoughtful comments, and it’s hard to recreate what I commented after it disappears.
It’s too bad, because I like the rest of WP.com. But I’m no techie, so I think I will look into other options before long, because blogging is no fun when you can’t form community with others.
(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 http://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
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.
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.
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.
The current downsizing trend isn’t just a result of the lousy economy (even though that’s what forced me and my family to downsize). I think the buying boom of the previous 40+ years has disappeared because there just aren’t enough beautiful things to buy.
I think about this when I go shopping for linens, as I did the other day. I needed some new washcloths as ours had gone all stiff, probably from my elderly dryer getting too warm for modern washcloths with their very specific washing instructions that including washing and drying on cool; my dryer doesn’t have a cool cycle, and we take hot showers, so modern washcloths are pretty much doomed once they get here.
While looking for the 4/$5 washcloths, I saw the towels, sheets and curtains; boring, all of them. They’re either in solid colors or bland prints. Gone are those pre-21st century days when I struggled to choose between bright floral prints (like those by Vera), tiny Laura Ashley-type stripes, and bold geometric designs.
I assume much of what we find in the stores these days is the result of uninspired, crank-them-out-as-fast-as-you-can far Eastern manufacturing. Once, designers grew up studying art and color theory, but now I’m thinking the prints come from the choices on some design software. Boring! No wonder I can hardly remember the last time I was tempted to buy something in a store. In fact, when department stores send me one of those “Get $10 worth of our stuff free” cards, I usually can’t find anything I want and come out empty-handed.
Young people have grown up in a world where everything looks the same. They have no idea of the choices we once had. It probably doesn’t matter, as so many of them are loaded down with student loan debt, and they pay so much in rent and to keep a smartphone going that they don’t have money left to go shopping anyways. I suppose the plus side is that it’s easy to live a minimalist lifestyle when you don’t see much you want.
But I think we all lose when beauty disappears.
Vintage Laura Ashley bedding
A young relative recently expressed frustration to me about a gathering of friends she attended.
It appears that the other young women were discussing an expensive children’s clothing company that is in vogue right now; $60 dresses for little girls is the standard in their line. Then they began talking about women’s clothes and how easy it is to spend $500 or $600 a month just to look nice.
My relative and her husband are working toward becoming debt-free, but her decision to be a stay-at-home mom and the medical bills her family faced from their first child’s birth (their medical insurance didn’t cover all of it) have made it especially challenging to live on one income.
“We were sitting in this nice big house, and the couple who live there said it’s not big enough and they’re getting ready to buy another one. They’re our age! How do they do it?” she asked.
Being a bit older (ahem) and more experienced, I told her that things may not be what they seem. There’s the obvious answer, of course: that their friends have racked up credit card debt and mortgage debt and haven’t reached their limit yet, so they just keep piling it on.
But there’s another obvious-to-me answer: that many young people get a lot of help from their parents these days. Some families routinely finance their adult children so they can maintain the lifestyle to which they (and their parents) have been accustomed.
In their seminal book The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley and William Danko called this “economic outpatient care.” These young people can live quite well with their parents’ monthly assistance. It’s not until their parents run out of cash or die that the gravy train ends and the young people end up the proverbial creek without a paddle, unless their folks were independently wealthy and left them a nice chunk of change (which they’ll probably burn through before long).
So the young families who don’t get economic outpatient care from their parents are left to look at their peers who do (but don’t advertise the fact) and wonder why they’re doing so much better. The answer, of course, is that it’s all smoke and mirrors. Mummy and Daddy are financing the lifestyle, and probably calling a lot of the shots, too, because, as a wise person once said, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”
My young relative is fairly independent-minded; even if her parents could afford to float her a few grand every month, I doubt that she would like having them tell her what to do. Once she becomes debt-free, she and her spouse will enjoy calling their own shots, I’m sure. But in the meantime, if they can keep their eyes on their goal of financial freedom and avoid the green-eyed monster whenever it rears its ugly head, as it did at their friends’ house, they’ll be on their way to a much better life than their friends who are so dependent on their parents.