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Estate Planning

What are You In Search Of …

Memories are not found in things

By Julie Hall, The Estate Lady – 

Everybody is in search of something.  We search for happiness, prosperity, vitality, etc.  We search for understanding, the meaning of life, the mysteries of the universe.  We look for people and special places and a million other things – all so that our lives will be meaningful.

In all my years of working in estates, I see clients searching for something too, but many of them haven’t quite figured out what it is they are looking for.  When it comes to clearing out the estate, many of them take way too much stuff only to clutter up their own homes.  You know they will never use those items, yet they continue taking, taking.  Why do they do this?  What void are these things feebly filling, that they didn’t get from the loved one in life?

Are they searching for absolution from a lost parent, or in need of validation of who they were to the parent?  Are they angry with the deceased loved one and never got a chance to make it right?  Are they guilt-ridden?  Did they not receive enough emotional love and support from the parent-child relationship, and now take things feeling “entitled” and holding a grudge?

Things are never a replacement for people.  At the end of our lives, we can’t take these things with us anyway and they will only serve to burden our children who really don’t want the stuff from the start.

When my mother died, here’s what I took from her estate and that very painful experience:

  • I took her beautiful smile and laughter, forever etched in my memory.
  • I took her solid advice and now practice it daily.
  • I took 50 years of memories … family gatherings and good times.
  • I took photographs so I would never forget how blue her eyes were.
  • I took her common sense, good manners, and lady-like disposition, and carry them with me, among many other things.

The point I’m trying to make is that memories are not found in things.  The things you take from an estate will gather dust and be forgotten eventually.  Special memories are already in your heart if you had a good relationship with the loved one.  And if you didn’t/don’t have a good relationship, now is a really good time to try to mend old, crumbling fences.


Read Julie Hall’s bio here and find other articles by Julie in the Estate Planning section of our library.

Parents’ Incomes and Children’s Outcomes: Can Tax Policy Level the Field?

By Knowledge@Wharton –

In Lake Wobegone, the fictional Midwestern town that “Prairie Home Companion” radio host Garrison Keillor made famous, all children are above average — as new parents always wish. Sadly, that isn’t so in the real world, especially for children born to low-income families without sufficient financial resources to nurture their inherent abilities. But as a new research report shows, a fresh twist on tax policy might level the odds and pay dividends across the whole population, rich and poor.

“Previous studies of how to set optimal taxes have typically ignored a crucial channel — the effects that parents have on their kids,” says Alexander Gelber, a professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton. He and co-author Matthew Weinzierl, a professor at Harvard Business School, mined new data and existing research for signs that taxes and ability are, in fact, linked.

Their paper, “Equalizing Outcomes vs. Equalizing Opportunities: Optimal Taxation When Children’s Abilities Depend on Parents’ Resources,” marshals statistical evidence that supports the idea that increased financial resources for parents with low incomes can lift the performance levels of their children on standardized tests of cognitive ability. The researchers asked how this linkage ought to affect tax policy.

The dominant model of optimal taxation is incomplete, the co-authors write. It treats the distribution of ability as unconnected — or “exogenous,” as the authors say — to optimal tax strategy. Their paper explores the consequences of relaxing current assumptions, assuming instead that tax policy and the abilities of children are connected — or “endogenous.” The core conceptual contribution of the paper, the researchers note, is that it takes into account the dynamic interaction between exogenous and endogenous causes of skill differences. “We consider how choices by parents affect the abilities [of] their children, and how these abilities in turn affect the set of choices available to children. This interaction is a central factor in optimal policy….”

A Bigger Effect

Gelber’s and Weinzierl’s research builds upon existing evidence that choices by parents affect the abilities of their children, as measured in standardized tests of cognitive performance. The authors used data on 3,714 children and 2,108 mothers between 1988 and 2000. They considered how parents’ incomes affected children’s standardized test scores. Based on their findings, the study proposes ways to use tax policy to affect children’s ability levels. “Ours is the first paper we know of to model this complexity and derive policy implications,” the authors write.

According to the model developed by the researchers, a resulting tax adjustment would affect children of all taxpayers, but not in equal measure. “Giving parents resources has a bigger effect on children among the low-income parents than among the high-income parents,” says Gelber. Bottom line: More disposable income means more chances to succeed for children in low-income families.

Think of it this way, Gelber states. If the government were to distribute money randomly to some high-income parents and not others, overall results on upper-income kids would not change very much. In contrast, an identical distribution of cash to some low-income families would have much more pronounced effects on the cognitive abilities of their children, as intuition affirms.

Boosting earned income tax credits (EITC) would provide the means to confer extra cash on low-income families, the researchers propose. Each $1,000 increase in disposable income for a given child should add two percentile points to that child’s ability levels as measured by national standardized tests. “It’s economically significant,” Gelber notes, “in the sense that gains in society’s welfare end up being substantial.” The empirical results suggest that past expansions of the Federal EITC, which now reaches almost $6,000 for some families, have had substantial effects on children’s cognitive scores, according to Gelber.

The researchers suggest that society could reap gains without imposing commensurate penalties on high-income taxpayers. That’s because the mean ability level increases across generations. An optimal tax policy will supply the work force with more skilled workers. The net gain to subsequent generations exceeds a 1% increase in permanent disposable income, they write.

In the ‘Real World’

Gelber adds a note of caution, however. While the researchers’ findings shed light on the need for an inquiry into existing tax policy, more research should precede concrete proposals. “What we’re thinking about is a step removed from real world policy making,” says Gelber. Important caveats include a concession that no existing data link how parents spend added income with variations in their kids’ outcomes. Nor do data exist yet to show the impact on income when children are old enough to join the work force.

“We’re most interested in an abstract comparison between conventional tax policy and tax policy that recognizes some effects of parents on children,” Gelber says. All else being equal, when this force is taken into account, it could justify lowering marginal tax burdens on the poor relative to the well off, they argue.

Even in a theoretical realm, such findings might rub a raw political nerve. Restive voters favor lower taxes, not more transfer payments — the net effect of lowering marginal taxes on low-income earners. However, Gelber remains optimistic that changes could take place, even in the current climate. Over the past three decades, he notes, Republican and Democratic presidents alike have increased EITC payments that transfer money to lower- and middle-income families.

“We actually do see a win-win,” says Gelber. An optimal tax policy enables a greater share of the children of low-skilled, low-income parents to move up the skill ladder than does the status quo policy. “Even higher-skilled members of the current generation gain substantially, however, as the gains in efficiency and equality in future generations raise the current generation’s present-value welfare,” the researchers note in their paper. Thus, both low- and high-income individuals gain from a policy that takes into account the effect of parents’ income on their children’s abilities.


Does Getting Older Make Finding the Good in the Bad Easier?

By Julie Hall –

It is never an easy thing, searching for the positive when “you know what” is hitting the fan. Lately, a lot of it is hitting the fan for everyone I know. If it isn’t one thing, another thing slaps us down. So the thought occurred to me, “Is this my karma, or someone else’s that’s been thrust on me for the sake of experience?” I’m a great person! Why is everything going wrong?

Maybe I am just along for the ride, and the purpose is for me to learn from these experiences and share them. But it sure feels like the world has gone mad … a captain who abandons his cruise ship and passengers, a scary time economically, political and government issues that never seem to get resolved … an uncertain future.

So, how can we find the good in the bad?

I think accepting some of the bad is part of it. Poop happens. It’s how we handle it that separates the good people from the not-so-good people. I also think having as good an outlook as possible is another big part of it. Every generation has seen historic events that are less than stellar, whether a world war, the great depression, disease, famine, etc.

Another thought is spreading your inner light to those who have it rougher than you, and there are plenty of people who have it rougher. If your light is bright, there is no better time than now to let it radiate to those around you.

As mom always said, “Julie, you need to take the negative and find a way to turn it around into a positive.”

Recently, I found myself in a situation where I really wanted to orally blast someone who I felt was incompetent. I was so irate; I wanted to yell at them and give them a piece of my mind! But instead, something came out of my mouth that shocked even me. I simply looked at the person and said, “I don’t want to add to the problem or be a part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.” When that left my mouth, I was suddenly empowered by my own words.

It must have been a higher power that planted those words in my mouth, because they saved me much aggravation and actually helped solve the problem. I recommend trying it sometime!

Julie Hall

Read Julie Hall’s bio here and find other articles by Julie in the Estate Planning section of our library.

Published In: Care For Yourself Lessons Learned From Seniors, January 23, 2012

Sometimes Life is an Oxymoron

by Julie Hall –

I sat meeting with a potential client in her parent’s affluent home. She asked my opinion as to how we should handle the dissolution of the property. Given her situation, I recommended a combination of auction and donation. The circumstances of the estate were not suitable for a good estate sale. I was shocked when she basically refused the very idea of donation. This reaction was foreign to me. With so many out there in need, and her financial blessings, I just couldn’t understand why she would not want the towels, linens, kitchen items, and clothing donated. I left the home not knowing what to make of it. It appeared to be a picture of an uncharitable heart. Hold that thought as you read the following story.

On Christmas Eve, our family went to a candlelight service. I felt a little blue because mom had passed away and everything felt weird without her. My father, family and I went to the service in hopes it would lift our Christmas spirit.

A small boy, no more than 4 years old, was wheeled into the service in front of me. There, in a wheelchair that looked like something from outer space with every gadget and gismo attached, was this very tiny child with the most angelic face I had ever seen. He was beautiful with his blonde hair and blue eyes and looked like “Tiny Tim” from A Christmas Carol.

He was completely helpless and dependent on his parents. The child could not move any of his limbs and stared up at the ceiling. He never made a sound. Finally, his father unbelted him from his lifeline and picked him up. The boy was as limp as a ragdoll and showed no sign of life other than his eyes being open.

At first, his dad held him on his lap and he repeatedly kissed the boy on the forehead. Then his mom held him and she would rub his hair playfully, talk to him and kiss his cheeks. Their faces and eyes held the most amazing peace. I thought to myself, Now, that’s love. What an amazing example of love, compassion, and acceptance.

When you witness something as beautiful as that love shared, and then meet other people who seem to have so much but are not willing to share any, it’s a little difficult to understand human nature.

I did not hear the minister’s message on Christmas Eve, because I was so engrossed in observing this family with their boy. When I realized I missed the bulk of the service, I just smiled to myself, knowing the message I had received was much more powerful – and a tender reminder that we have so much to be thankful for.

Read Julie Halls Bio here.

First Published in DONATIONS OF STUFF HOLIDAYS on JAN 2, 2012

Valuable Knowledge: Catalogue Your Senior’s Property

by Marion Somers, PhD –

A necessary precaution, in case of disaster or theft, is to accurately catalogue your elder’s property and valuables. Far too many people don’t even think to inventory their property until something has gone terribly wrong and by then, it’s too late. Many people are not aware of everything they have in their possession until they go through this process. The worst-case scenario is when nothing has been done and a calamity occurs. Then you are left trying to recall exactly what you had while you are dealing with the trauma of the negative event. So start this process as soon as possible.

I always start outside the home and inventory all that is there. Then I go through the entire residence and capture every single item either on video or as a photo. Video works better since you can verbally discuss details of each item like how much it is worth, where it was purchased, and so on. Go through the home and capture a wide view of each room, and then open each drawer to document everything in more detail. If it’s a jewelry box, I like to spread out the jewelry on the bed so that each item can be clearly seen. The same goes for every closet.  First, I capture a panoramic view, and then I pull out each item to document one fur hat, four suits, a pair of boots, etc. I also show the front of any valuable silverware, and then turn it over and note any unique markings. All of this also helps if you have to fill out an insurance and/or police report. The more detailed the information is, the better to get prompt action.

Once you have documented everything, be sure to place the video, photos, and written notes in a very safe place. I suggest a safety deposit box or a lock box somewhere outside the home. That way, if something terrible occurs like a fire or flood, you know the documentation will be protected.

Learn more about Dr. Marion on her Authors page.

A version of this blog appeared on Dr. Marion’s Web Site.

How A Senior Party Changed Me Forever

by Julie Hall – 

As we approach 2012,  I’d like to share a special memory from two years ago as we prepare for the new year ahead.

It was a spur-of-the-moment invitation from my 78 yr. old mother.   While visiting my parents out-of-state, Mom announced she bought me a ticket to their senior holiday dinner and dance party at the local clubhouse.  Knowing it would make them happy, I obliged, but wasn’t exactly ready to kick up my heels just yet.  How much fun could it really be?

The clubhouse was nothing fancy — it was reminiscent of a church basement or school gym, devoid of color though there were a few decorations on the wall.   In front of the small bingo stage was the collapsible black sound system from the hired DJ, complete with a disco ball spinning crystal-like dots on the walls and a lighted 3 ft. Santa next to his unit.   The floor was exceptionally shiny, as if someone had spent hours buffing and polishing it to perfection, meant just for dancing.

With roughly 40 seniors present, dinner was served.  We all waited in line, cafeteria style, to be served our food – a very simple meal of roast beef, green beans and a roll with coffee or water.   Dessert would be homemade cakes from some of the neighborhood ladies.   Styrofoam plates in hand, we waited patiently as everyone got the same amount of food.

During our meal, the DJ came alive and it was obvious he loved his job.  The beat from Glen Miller’s  “In the Mood” was evident in my tapping feet, shoulder motions and bobbing head – was that me actually having fun?  Dare I say the fun was just beginning…

Mesmerized by the fantastic selection of 40’s and 50’s music and jazz beats that made you want to get up and bounce all over the dance floor, the seniors suddenly came alive, as if their simple meal had fueled their fire.  Some with canes, others with oxygen, still others like my mother afflicted with heart disease – it didn’t matter to them – they got up and started dancing like they were young again!!

Before my very eyes, the music became their magic. Transported back to the 1940’s, the hands of time literally spun backwards to return them to their prime in life.  No longer weak or frail, they would have easily danced their boomer children into a state of exhaustion.   This was their night and they proudly took ownership of it.

Over the course of the evening, I found myself looking closely at the old men’s weathered faces.  They didn’t look old to me anymore.   It was like watching an episode of Star Trek when they were brought back in time wearing their U.S. military uniforms and the ladies’ vibrant and shiny hair had curls and they had small waists, just like in the old movies.

But the most moving part of the evening was how they looked at each other.  Couples who had been married for 50-60 years still gazed upon each other with love and affection – I even caught a glimpse of an elderly man stroking his wife’s face while they danced. I had to fight the tears back because mom told me that lady was fighting an illness.  This, I thought, was true commitment.

They had survived the Great Depression and one of the world’s most devastating wars, and raising us!  These were people who simply did what needed to be done.  They are fiercely loyal, still loved America, and always had a strong work ethic.

For one night, for a few hours, they didn’t care about their diseases, ailments, aches and pains.  They only wanted to let their hair down and have a memorable time.  There I sat, a 48-year-old daughter, who found herself in love with each of them – for the way they laughed, for the way they did the “Twist,” for the way they treated each other with smiles galore and twirling about as if today were their last day on earth.

The thought crossed my mind, as it probably did theirs, that our time is indeed limited, for some more than others.  How is it they could dance and enjoy fellowship with such carefree smiles and attitude?  Because they love life and offered each other the best gift anyone could possible receive.  They gave the gift of simple joy.  The gave the gift of each other.

I found myself deeply moved by what I saw that evening.   Ours has become a world of convenience, and often inconvenience.  A place where people are always saying “What’s in it for me?” and a place where we don’t see as much care and concern for each other, as there was in our parents’ generation.

I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge visiting a strange place and time, who saw the light and got the meaning in just the few hours they allowed me to share with them. I feel so very honored to have witnessed such a gift.  Our seniors truly are our greatest asset, and we have much to learn from them.  All we need to do is open our eyes, ears and hearts.

Read more about Julie Hall and Estate Planning

What I’ve Learned as an Expert in “Things” (Part 2)

by Julie Hall – 

You know as well as I as Wal-Mart and almost every other store are playing holiday music already:  The holidays are coming soon!!

I wrote this blog as an expert on “things” and I hope that these last two thoughts will revolutionize how you view this year’s holidays.  They will likely save you money and frustration when doing your holiday shopping.  Please consider the following observations from this expert in “things:”

3.  It’s what you do with what you have that really counts, not what you possess.  Economic times are tough, so it is important to remember there are others dealing with greater difficulties than you.  Even when we tighten our purse strings, we can still give in many ways that others would be so grateful for.

  • Give of yourself.
  • Go visit someone you have been meaning to see for a long time.
  • Write that letter.
  • Bake those cookies.
  • Volunteer for those needing help.
  • Visit those confined to home by infirmity or sickness.
  • Surprise a loved one.
  • Make that phone call to make amends with one you haven’t spoken to for years.
  • Bring your children to an assisted living or nursing home; watch the residents light up.
  • Say what you need to say right now.
  • Ask for forgiveness and offer it, no matter what.
  • Offer hugs to those who really need it.
  • Listen to your elders because you will learn so much.

4.  If you have seniors in your life … Spend a full day with them. Ask them to share stories of your family history — fun stories, challenges, family secrets, marriages.  Look through old photos.  Record this day and make a book for them (and copies for each sibling) so it may be passed down for years to come.  Many children regret not having more family history, but they realize this only after a loved one has left us.

If you missed my first two lessons, you can catch up on them here in Part 1

First Published in Dealing with Stuff by Julie Hall – The Estate Lady

What I’ve Learned as an Expert in “Things” (Part 1)

by Julie Hall –

As an expert in personal property, my days are filled with visiting estates, consulting with my clients, and ascertaining what has value versus what does not. I help boomer children make sound decisions after mom and dad have passed on and work closely with seniors, helping them make a plan for their heirlooms and understanding their worth.

My world revolves around many beautiful things, what they may be worth, and sometimes sadly watch people fight over these things after a loved one dies. Having met thousands of individuals in my career, I can safely say I have learned from each and every one of them. Here are two valuable things I have learned:

1. We exit this world the way we enter it – owning nothing but a beautiful spirit that houses love and memories earned over a lifetime. You cannot take anything with you, so why fight over “things”?

2. Things do bring instant gratification, but do not long-lasting happiness. So we keep buying more things to keep feeling good. Too many of us fill our lives with “things” to ease unresolved pain and issues. As we continue to go into debt and buy ourselves the latest electronic gadget, we are still left unfulfilled and discontented. We buy to feel good, we buy because we deserve it, and we buy because we are depressed. But in the long run, it ends up in the hands of family, or a professional such as myself, to sell it.

Next week, I will share two more valuable lessons I’ve learned as an expert in “things”. I hope these lessons today, and the two next week, will alter your plans to gain more and give more “things” during the upcoming holiday season. Please come back for the other two positive lessons!

First published on The Estate Lady Speaks on October 31, 2011

Oh, I’ll Get to it One Day

What if “One Day” Never Comes?

By Julie Hall

It’s fascinating what we professionals notice in our clients’ estates. For example, we do see a distinct similarity in almost all of the estates we go into, especially if the estate belonged to an elderly loved one from the Depression Era. The attics are usually full and the interesting thing is that 85% of them are full of things that really should have been disposed of 30+ years ago.

By the time we get into these attics to clear them out, the books are rotted and have been gnawed on, anything cardboard has pretty much disintegrated, clothing either smells like mildew or falls apart in your hands, or you find items that have long since been obsolete and no one has any use for them. If items of value were stored in the attic (which is a big no-no), chances are pretty good they have been damaged and the value greatly diminished. This is not always the case, but is generally what we find.

My assistant has a saying when we are working in the daunting attics, up to our elbows in stuff: “They were young when they put this stuff up there. By the time they finally figure out it has to be dealt with, they are 85 years old and can’t get up here anymore.”

So true. Time stops for no man and it does move rather quickly. We all have the best intentions of cleaning out the shed, garage, closets, cupboards … but if you continue to procrastinate and something happens where you or your loved one become incapacitated, it truly leaves a burden for the ones you leave behind. A bigger burden than you realize.

If you have had your sights on a project around the house which includes clearing out some “stuff”, make sure you know what it is worth before you sell it or give it away. It is better to clear out the clutter now so you can feel better about it and not worry. Believe me, your loved ones will really appreciate it one day.


Need to Determine Estate Heirloom Value? How?

Why Can’t I Determine Value on the Internet?

By Julie Hall

Q: You make it sound complicated to establish values of my heirlooms. Why can’t I just look at the Internet and find the value myself? Surely there’s plenty of stuff for sale on Ebay that I can find a similar item and see what they are asking for that item.

A: The arrival of the 21st century has enabled us to find 90% of what we are searching for on the Internet. What a great tool – but with greatness also comes weakness. What a double-edged sword. If used correctly, you can find the answers. If used incorrectly, it can truly mislead you, or cause permanent damage to one’s reputation.

I read numerous articles, newsletters, and blogs; I see so many wanting to research what their possessions are worth.

There are multiple factors involved in assigning a value to a particular item, not limited to the following: marketability, condition, collectability, age, rarity, provenance, materials used, handmade vs. factory made, etc. Age alone is not the only important characteristic, for all that is old is not necessarily valuable. Original condition is a very important factor, as is rarity.

One problem is everyone seems to believe they have something hard-to-find or rare, based on family stories told over years. Families are often disappointed to learn that the old bench great-grandfather made in 1857 is just an old bench and has more sentimental value than monetary value.

People have a tendency to jump onto Ebay, which is not always a good thing. While Ebay is a huge site with a broad variety of items, the market is currently down and often cyclical. There are better times of year than others to sell on Ebay. It’s also important to compare apples with other apples, and not an item that just looks like grandma’s old figurine. You must first have an accurate description of the item, then you can begin your search.

Remember too, the cardinal rule: If you go searching on the Internet, make sure you accurately find the price the item sold for, and not just the asking price. Many times people say, “Julie, you only appraised this item for $200 and I see it on the Internet for $675. Why is your appraisal so different?” My research of comparable items accurately depicts what it sold for. Anyone can ask any price they wish. Go on Ebay and you will see some pretty ridiculous asking prices! But note, the items have not sold for these prices.

It is important to also remember to search multiple search engines, as well as different values: not just Ebay, but online auctions, in-person auctions, estate sales, etc. Find the fairest comparable item you can. Keep in mind that professional appraisers have extensive training and knowledge in research, writing, and databases, which the average person does not have. When in doubt, please hire a professional appraiser to offer you the knowledge you need to make good, sound decisions about your personal property.