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The Quiet Agony of an Estate Sale

Estate Sale Sadness.jpgCommon human experience teaches us that we all have something to share - something that we might know more about because of our experience. The hairdresser knows far more about hair than the realtor. The realtor knows more about real estate than the truck driver. Doctors know far more about medicine than a stockbroker. And lawyers experienced in estate litigation have seen repeat patterns in situations that are not usually encountered in everyday life.

This is about estate sales - specifically the agony of estate sales.

We value our parents, our family history and our family relationships. When we lose a loved one, grief often engulfs us. There are the spiritual, emotional and financial challenges associated with the loss. The sale of a deceased loved one's personal property make these challenges real.

You should know that I too have faced these challenges. My experience probably reflects those of many. And, I have seen how our clients face these challenges. I want to share some of my thoughts.

Haste should be avoided. Too many times have I seen a child of a deceased parent express regret that he or she didn't take the time to think about what should be done with their parent's personal property. There are many ways to avoid this regret.

If the family is willing and able come together, they can agree to a split of the property.

This may be done in stages - an initial split followed by a later split. The family should not be too hasty in having an estate sale. Such sales may ultimately be necessary but they are better handled after a thoughtful plan of distribution and retention has been discussed with family members.

Be prepared for emotional upheavals - especially in estranged our split families. It is common to feel emotional pain when family heirlooms - of whatever economic value - are discarded by a step parent or step brothers or sisters. I've seen this more times than I can count - a father's military uniform is discarded with little care for giving it to his children - the heirlooms of the first family, rich in memory and meaning, end up in a garbage can - family heirlooms are prized only for their economic value and their ties back to family life are completely subsumed by an heir's desire for money.

The Quiet Agony of an Estate Sale after a Loved One is Gone from Hackard Law on Vimeo.

Most of us have experienced the underlying sadness of visiting an estate sale. We look at items that we know once had meaning for a person or a family. Such items on display may look like a home-based thrift shop - or even if high in value - for the easy discarding of memories for money.

I titled my observations as "The Agony of Estate Sales." This is not a how-to exercise or the listing of the statutes that affect such sales. Ultimately, such sales may be as much about family harmony, the challenges of grief and the desire to remember our parents - our devotion to them and their devotion to us.

If you remember one thing - be prepared for the emotions of an estate sale. You are not weak because you feel the sadness of loss and the melancholy of selling or giving away items that you or your family once held dear. Reach out to others who have experienced the same grief for the same reasons.

Knowing that estate sales bring a roller coaster of emotions, you and your family deserve some understanding. Do what you can to bear the sufferings that seem endemic to the sale of a loved one's personal property. Forgive the slights that at time seem unavoidable, and comfort other family members that are suffering in ways that they may not express.

To paraphrase what many of our parents told us when sibling fights got serious - try to be gentle with each other.

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