Baby Boomers are expected to outnumber Millennials in Michigan in 2019 despite the national trend being the opposite. This is important to those who are aging in their home without an “exit” plan and their children.
We had a client whose husband died unexpectedly 5 years ago. He was a collector who managed the finances and maintenance of the home. By the time we were called to help, she was buried under a pile of documents, personal property and delayed maintenance and she was overwhelmed and paralyzed. Her children lived out of state and could not help. When friends offered to help, she didn’t know where to start. On top of it all, she was in poor health.
This is a desperate situation that Realtors are encountering. Thankfully, it can be avoided. Here are the top five things we have found that you can do now to keep from being in this client’s position:
1. DEAL WITH PERSONAL PROPERTY NOW
First, and most important, stop storing your grown children’s belongings!
For all children who live away from home, tell them you have created a pile of their things and that they have until a certain date to get them. If they have not come to get them (or made different arrangements) by that date, they are not going to. Get rid of it. Don’t store stuff for them that they aren’t willing to store themselves.
Second, develop a system to reduce the things you keep.
“You spend the first part of your life collecting things…and the second half getting rid of them” – Isabel Allende
Here’s a plan: Commit to a constant rotation of paring down possessions that starts now and never ends. Each month, you pick a room and go through all drawers, closets or other storage and ask yourself this question: Have I used this in the last 12 months? If the answer is “no”, then let it go.
My sister, Carla is doing the family a HUGE favor. Every 6 weeks, she visits my dad. On EVERY visit, she goes through a dresser, a closet, a cabinet, etc. and is methodically removing anything that my dad does not need on a day-to-day basis. She is giving all of us a chance to claim anything we may want and the rest is getting donated or pitched. Dad is 83. He is happy because he is living in a de-cluttered home. We will be extremely happy when the time comes to move him from his house as everything in it that he cares about will go with him.
Does your husband have a 4 ft. piece of PVC that he’s holding on to because he may need it some day? This is a hard area to tackle. Just because you haven’t used a wrench in 12 months doesn’t mean you won’t. That is why this is a continuous process. At 78, dad was still using wrenches. At 83, not so much.
2. GET HELP
Your children may have moved away, but they do come see you, even if it’s seldom. The next time your children are scheduled to visit, organize a “work day” and explain to them that you have sorted through things and will need their help getting rid of it. They can help you hold a weekend garage sale, or help cart off donations or items to the local dump. This can also apply to your siblings, cousins, grandchildren, etc.
Maybe you need to consider an estate sale or auction? The first step is to invite a professional in to see if you have enough items with enough value to warrant a sale. Your RE/MAX agent can give you the names of professionals in this area to work with.
If your family is no help and you don’t have enough valuable items to warrant a sale, what about members from your church or a local organization to which you belong? If you are donating items to The Salvation Army or another local charity, they may help you dispose of some things in return for your donation.
3. UPDATE YOUR DEED, WILL, OR TRUST
It’s very simple – if you leave this earth without a valid will or trust that dictates the disposal of your assets, your estate will most likely need to be probated in court. Please don’t leave your loved-ones with this burden. Contact your attorney to be sure you have the proper paperwork in place and update that paperwork every couple of years to be sure it is valid. Things change and your estate planning needs to be kept up. Don’t try to do this part yourself. There are very small details that can make the difference between valid and invalid paperwork. One piece of advice – only leave one person in charge. It can be a real estate nightmare to clear every single decision through multiple heirs. Pick someone. The others will understand eventually.
4. KNOW WHEN TO SELL
This is different for everyone. Some people are very emotionally attached to their homes and have a hard time leaving memories or the comfort of the familiar behind. Here are some signs that it may be time to sell the family home:
a. Every day maintenance has become overwhelming. Mowing, cleaning, gardening, etc.
b. Too much space. One person in a 3-bedroom home may be over-kill. When is the last time you were in your basement?
c. Gatherings aren’t held at your home any more. Have your children taken over for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other family holidays?
d. Stairs have become an issue. Is it time that everything be located on the same level?
e. You’re never there. Are your winters out of state bleeding into fall and spring? Are you traveling more than you’re home?
Talk to your attorney and accountant before selling. Owning a home can be one way to shelter your assets and prevent them from being used for long-term care before Medicare kicks in. You need to be aware of possible taxes on capital gains.
5. CONTINUOUSLY UPDATE AND MAINTAIN YOUR HOME!
Not long ago, there was a very large, 4 bedroom, 4 bath home for sale on 10 acres that should have easily been worth over $300,000. Unfortunately, it had not been updated in many years. It was an estate and the owner, a widow, was relying on the proceeds of the sale to fund her remaining years. The house sold for $155,000.
Each year, go through your home and identify at least one maintenance project and one cosmetic update to complete. Your home is very likely your largest investment. You must maintain its value.
This advice comes from years of witnessing heart-breaking stories in real estate and I am following this advice myself.