Losing a loved one or family member can be a very difficult and stressful time. Often those feelings can elevate to a level of high anxiety, especially when that person has an estate that needs to managed. Often times the estate can be so overwhelming, whether large or small, that selling parts of the estate are the best way to consolidate. Guilt may be another feeling you contend with when deciding to sell a loved ones estate. Knowing that you are making the right decision for every item you hope to sell or donate can be a difficult decision to make. The way to attack each estate can be unique. Here are 5 Tips that will give you ideas for the variety of circumstances from the big estates to the smaller estates. For those who want professional help or for those who want to brave it on their own, I hope this list finds you comfort and knowledge to help you thru this difficult time. I will eventually address each of these on the list more in depth down the road. But for now, I wanted to give you a short overview to get you started on the journey. These tips can also be used for anybody looking to downsize themselves or to help a loved one start working on their own “Elephant.”
1) A BITE AT A TIME - Getting over the overwhelming feeling of having to disperse an
estate is a lot like eating an Elephant. You can do it, just do it a bite at a time. Creating a list of goals, a project list, and delegating tasks whenever possible is going to make the journey much easier. The shorter your timeline is, and having too few to help means the greater the challenge and may indicate the need to turn to a professional. If you have to be out of a home or apartment by a deadline, the first goal may need to involve moving/ storage vs. a quick sale or donation. Otherwise you may risk hasty decisions on selling vs donation. The fact that you are reading this now suggests you may not want to make hasteful decisions about the items you are entrusted to sell. Family may need time to congregate to discuss items they are interested in. Slowing down whenever possible gives you time to process grief and not make decisions you may later regret. Because I specialize in Vintage Postcards, I have heard countless stories that include “Oh we had no idea grandma’s postcards were worth anything; we threw them all away.” I have spent as much as $500 on a shoebox full of vintage postcards. Unless you are okay with throwing away money, it’s always a good idea to slow down and get advice!
2) SET A DATE/ DEADLINE - Most of us will get more accomplished hours before we
leave on a vacation that we do on a typical day. This is not a coincidence! Having a date with a deadline can energize you and the task at hand rather than give you anxiety about it going on forever. Trust me, I’ve seen people let this drag on FOREVER! I
suggest avoiding this in order to reduce any further anxiety. Do not procrastinate this project. It’s an easy one to procrastinate if you have the room to store it all!! Before you know it years will pass, and you still have not attacked it the way you should have or when you should have, leaving you with even more anxiety. Once you accept this fact, you will know whether to proceed with a sale or donate. Refer back to Tip #1 and establish a list of goals that work within your timeline. If you are going to have your own sale, set a date. Many of us underestimate the time it takes to do a sale with OUR things, now you have to sell a loved ones things. Be confident and set goals, set a date/deadline you know you can meet, be sure to factor in any delays that may prevent you from reaching the deadline; such as holidays, birthdays, or vacations.
3) SORT ITEMS- Sort the items by category. Avoid throwing things away until you have a plan. When my mother died, we sorted things by four basic categories. You can always break these down further later. 1. “Old” or historic items to donate to the Museum, My mother had a business in downtown Lowell and she still had shopping bags with their logo that she had kept. I didn’t want to throw them away so I donated some to the museum. 2. Family heirlooms/ family history is a must to keep 3.Things to Donate to our FROM (Flat River OutReach Ministries - Our local Goodwill) 4. Everything else you may want to sell or pass down to family. Sometimes these things go by list. In all honesty, sometimes sorting out the last two gets tricky for some people. I could go on and on about this one and mistakes people make. So I will just say one of the most common mistakes is throwing old paper items away. Like “Postcards”, “newspapers”, “Magazines”, Calendars,etc. But I will go into more depth about this in another article.
4) INCORPORATE THE RIGHT APPROACH- Choosing the various options you can use to sell that you believe work with your needs. Some examples are, Garage Sale, Antique shows, Rent a Booth in an establishment, Consignment with a business, Selling online or hiring a company that specializes in 1-3 day Estate Sales.
5) HIRE A PRO- There are several ways you can hire professionals. Estate Companies
are one of the most common to use. You can also auction houses, hire dealers, appraisers or work with consignment companies to help you sell. When I was dealing with my families estate, I used to think the percentage estate companies took (around 20-30%) was a lot until I understood more about the business. Of course, the quantity and quality of the estate items means the value and their pay is subjective. Consider what quantity and quality you have to sell. Contact at least 3 professionals to give you estimates and find out their background and experience. Their expertise will help you decide what is right for you. If you decide to do your own sale, you may make mistakes that cost you more than the money an Estate Dealer can bring to your sale. They are expensive (or seem so), because they are worth it. I remember selling some Fire King Coffee Mugs that my mom had for .25 each not knowing they were worth much more than that at the time. Not a huge loss but we also over-priced items because they were “old”. Old does not always = “valuable”. Antiques and Collectibles have cycles. Dealers usually can tell you what is ‘in’ and isn’t. Also, when choosing to run the sale yourself, it may benefit you to hire a local antique dealer to help you organize and price your items and understand the market you live in. The sister that sells Antiques in Chicago may have a different market than the one you live in. Often you can pay them by the hour and their advice can save you time and money. Be sure to pick an individual that matches the needs of your estate. For instance, if your loved one had a large fishing collection, find a person that knows this market. If money to pay somebody is a challenge, consider offering them items in trade for their time. If you have one or two items that seem difficult to find information on, there are dealers who may be able to help. Sometimes rare items can be hard to find. For instance, we subscribe to a website that allows us deeper and older research. Their are also websites that specialize in helping people appraise their items. I once had a customer utilize one of these sites to give him detailed information about a rare Airplane propeller he had. It’s a lot like hiring the librarian to do the research for you! It can be quite affordable for the right pieces. Perhaps not for the art print that has limited value, because Art can be one of the more difficult things to value. I suggest you see a professional for real art.
Hopefully these ideas provide you with the confidence you need to begin your journey. Remember knowledge is power and power will give you the confidence you need to attack any project. This is true with any project and even more so when managing an Estate! In the end, all of us have to measure the value of hiring professionals vs our own time Time= $.