What is an Inventory…and do I need one?

An inventory is a list of the contents of a house or storage unit, with a value assigned to each item or group of items. When a person dies and their estate is probated, the court requires the Executor or Administrator of the estate to file a list of the decedent’s assets.  In Ohio there is a specific probate form titled “Inventory & Appraisal”, (“I&A”). The I&A is a list of all the assets of the decedent, including real estate, bank accounts, stocks, motor vehicles, and the contents of a house, barn, or storage unit. Most of the time the Executor or Administrator estimates the value of the contents of the house or storage unit, but in certain circumstances a professional inventory is necessary. Those circumstances include disputes among the heirs as to the value of the contents or specific items; valuation for estate tax purposes; and high value items such as antiques, collectibles, coins, jewelry, etc.  Another situation that we often run across is that the Executor has no idea what is in the house/barn/storage unit – especially the storage unit which is usually packed full of boxes – and needs someone to go thru all of it.

If you need an inventory, we start by viewing the house/barn/storage unit and talking with you about what type of inventory you need (specific items only, whole house, etc.). We will then give you an estimate of how long it will take and our fee for the inventory.

The final inventory will include an itemized list and valuation of the contents by room or area (i.e., living room, southeast corner of attic, etc.), and photographs of the contents.  All boxes will be numbered, with a corresponding entry on the final inventory so that you can easily find specific items (e.g., comic book collection is in box 13 in the front bedroom closet).  We will also provide both you and the attorney for the estate with a signed copy of the final inventory, and make arrangements with the attorney to sign the Probate Court Inventory & Appraisal, (required in Ohio).

Visit us on the web at http://www.SomersetHouseServices.com.

Posted in Inventories | 2 Comments

Mom just passed away and I’m the Executor, now what?

I know that it is very hard to deal with the death of a family member, make arrangements for the funeral, and at the same time think about practical considerations, but there are certain things that you need to take care of right away.

1. Change the locks. I know how this sounds, but as my grandmother was fond of saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. You don’t know who has a key, and a death sometimes brings out the worst in people. That includes family members, friends, neighbors, caregivers, etc.

2. If you can’t change the locks right away, secure the valuables. That means packing up the jewelry, (including what you think is just costume jewelry), the silver, and anything else that is valuable and can be slipped into a pocket. And don’t forget the Will, the credit cards, and the checkbook.

3. Have someone stay at the house during the viewing and the funeral service. This prevents thieves from looting the house while you are at the funeral.

4. Make an appointment with an attorney right away. There are certain documents that need to be filed with the Probate Court so that you can be appointed Executor. Once you are appointed, the Probate Court will issue certified “Letters of Authority” (also called “Letters of Appointment”) that state you are the Executor. You’ll need these to close bank accounts, liquidate investment accounts, forward mail, etc.

5. Don’t throw away or donate any of the personal property until you’ve had an estate sale professional look at it. What you think is junk might be valuable.

Visit us on the web at http://www.SomersetHouseServices.com.

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Treasures in the Attic… & Garage & Basement & Back of the Closet

When I was a little girl I wanted to grow up and be Nancy Drew, hunting for lost treasure and solving mysteries.  That’s why I love my job, because every day I get to fulfill my dreams.  We’ve been hard at work setting up a big estate sale in West Kettering, and it has been great fun discovering all the long forgotten treasures tucked away in the house.  Some of the things we’ve found…

-The Fisher Price roller chime toy – I’ll have to admit that all of us have taken a turn running it up and down the hallways, just to listen to the music of the chimes.

-The 1940’s era suitcase filled with vintage needles in their original packs, silk thread, tins full of buttons & sewing notions, and a handmade sewing apron that has a measuring tape sewn upside down along the bottom, (so that if you were working on a project you didn’t have to hunt for a measuring tape – you could just flip up your apron!)

-The aluminum Coca Cola six pack carrier, still in good condition under the layers of dust & grime.

-The chrome swivel counter/soda fountain stool with a bright turquoise seat.  It reminds me of the drugstore soda fountain that my friends & I would go to on Saturday afternoons – now that was a great treat, a few dollars from our parents and off we would all go to the corner drugstore for a cheeseburger & fries and a banana split to share.

-The marvelous American Flyer train set, with the cars still in their original boxes.  We had great fun setting this up.

-The old Tonka toys that we found in a box in the basement.  My brother had these as a boy – and if I even touched them severe consequences would follow.

-The sterling silver creamer engraved “August 8, 1894” which was probably a wedding or anniversary gift.  It is unfortunately missing its top, something we often come across and which always makes me wonder “how did that happen”?

-The WWII era wood box with the owner’s name & rank stenciled on the top, later used as a toy box.  It was probably used to ship his clothes & personal effects (and maybe a few things he bought in Europe during the war) by train & ship.

Well I could go on, but it is time to get to work.  I hope to see you at this wonderful estate sale!

Visit us on the web at http://www.SomersetHouseServices.com.

Posted in Estate Sales | 2 Comments

Calling the Bomb Squad…

Recently I joined the “We had to call the Bomb Squad Club”, a small group of estate sale professionals that I had really hoped I would never be part of.  We were hard at work at an estate cleanout, going thru a house full of 65+ years of accumulation.  Believe me when I tell you that this guy NEVER threw anything away, and at the bottom of a box there it was – a silver canister with wires sticking out of the top.  I had no idea what it was, but one of my crew recognized it right away as a military signal flare.  [Signal flares burn at 3000 Kelvin when ignited].  There were also two other empty silver canisters (and I don’t want to even think about where those were set off).

The next phone call was the police department…“Hello, I’m in the process of cleaning out a house and we just found a military signal flare”.  (Let me tell you, that certainly gets the dispatcher’s attention).  The officer who responded took one look at it and called for a sergeant, who in turn called the Bomb Squad, who in turned called the liaison officer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

In the meantime I got to answer a lot of questions, which went like this…

Bomb Squad:  “Where did you find it?”

Me:  “At the bottom of a box in one of the bedrooms on the second floor.”

Bomb Squad:  “How was it stored?  Was it in a wooden box?”

Me:  “No, it was just in the bottom of a cardboard box under a lot of wire and miscellaneous electronic parts.”

Bomb Squad:  “Were there any others?”

Me:  “Uh, well there were two other canisters but they are empty.”

Bomb Squad:  {In stern voice} “You’ll need to go get them, they have to be turned over to the Military Liaison Officer.”

Me:  “I’ll be right back”. [Runs upstairs, grabs empty canisters, and hands them to Officer.]

Bomb Squad:  “Is there anything else here like this.”

Me:  “I certainly hope not.”

I must compliment the Dayton Police Department on their professional response, but I really hope that this is the last time I have to make this type of call.

Visit us on the web at http://www.SomersetHouseServices.com.

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Why you don’t need to worry about what I might find in the house (’cause I’ve seen it all)

The phone rings and it’s a potential client (we’ll call her Mary) who has questions about a possible estate sale.  Mary tells me that her uncle (we’ll call him Otto) has recently passed away, and much to Mary’s surprise she has been named Executor of Otto’s Will. We talk about the house and the contents and how an estate sale works, and slowly the details emerge. Apparently Uncle Otto was rather eccentric, never married, and lived all his life in the house he inherited from his parents. After the funeral, Mary met with Otto’s attorney who explained to her that as executor she is responsible for emptying out Otto’s house. Mary had never been in the house because Otto was on the outs with his family (Mary isn’t sure why, she just knows that whenever Otto’s name came up the rest of the family changed the subject). But after meeting with the attorney she drove over to the house and discovered that the house is a total mess.  It hasn’t been cleaned in years, there are rooms that you can barely get the door open, and she hasn’t even ventured into the basement or the attic yet.  It’s obvious that Mary is completely overwhelmed and has no idea where to start.

 I tell Mary that I don’t charge anything to come to the house and view the contents, and that after walking thru the house I will give her my opinion about the best way to proceed and then she can decide what she wants to do. And yet Mary hesitates about setting up the appointment and says, well I really need to go thru things first. There is something in her voice that makes me wonder what she is so worried about – is it that the house is such a mess, or are there some really personal items that she wants to get rid of first?

I ask Mary to please not throw anything out before I get there, (First Rule of Estate Sales – NEVER throw anything out before a professional looks at it). I also tell her that the condition of the house won’t shock me, or the contents.  Still Mary hesitates.  And it becomes very clear that Mary is really embarrassed about something.

So, for every Mary out there, here are some of the things I (and every other estate sale professional) have run across in this business.

I. House is a wreck. See my previous post “Estate Cleanouts – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly for a description of some of the things I’ve dealt with.  The only thing I haven’t found in a house yet – and certainly hope never to find – is a dead body.  Now that might shock me.  

II. Items of an adult nature. Every kind of pornography and sex toy that you can think of. Straight, gay, bi-sexual, bondage, S&M, etc. I’ll get rid of it discreetly, (actually I’ll sell it privately if I can), and I won’t tell the neighbors either, so you don’t need to worry about this.

III. Rooms where obviously very disturbed individuals wrote obscene messages on the walls. We’ll close off the area so that customers won’t have access during the sale, so you don’t have to worry about what the neighbors might think. Or we can make arrangements to have the room painted by a professional who isn’t going to talk.

If you are in Mary’s situation, please, do yourself a favor and call a professional. There is no need to be embarassed about the condition of the house or the contents, and there is certainly no need to put yourself thru the stress of dealing with this by yourself.

Visit us on the web at www.SomersetHouseServices.com

Posted in Estate Cleanouts, Estate Sales | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Why it’s better (for both of us) if all the items the family wants to keep are out of the house before we start setting up for the sale.

Before I get to the subject of today’s blog, a few comments about the previous blog “So Why Do You Ask For That”. I’ve been told that the tone of that blog is “rather testy” “bitchy” and “cranky” … even after I modified the blog. [Note to self, do not post blogs written while really tired.] So let me try again to clarify a few things.

First, I’m still going to ask to see your ID and the power of attorney or court order that authorizes you to sell the contents of the house. Please don’t take this personally, it’s just that after 20+ years of working in the legal field with all types of estates, I’ve seen what can happen when you’re not careful.

Second, while I won’t personally wrestle live raccoons out of the attic, I will GLADLY make all the arrangements to get rid of the critters. Same with leaky cans of some unknown substance in the garage that is eating thru the floor, black mold in the basement, and pulsating hives of killer bees in the cupola. I will however remove dead mice, rats, squirrels, (well I won’t personally, that’s a job for the guys on my crew), and ruthlessly swat any creepy crawlies that we run across.

Third, I don’t automatically assume that you/your family/neighbors are going to abscond with the contents of the house in the middle of the night, but I also am a firm believer in the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so I am going to ask that you and I are the only ones with the key & garage door opener to the house.

O.k., now that we have that out of the way, on to today’s blog – Why it’s better (for both of us) if all the items the family wants to keep are out of the house before we start setting up for the sale.

You call me regarding an estate sale. We make arrangements to meet at the house and view the contents. As we walk thru the house, my first question is “what do you and your family want to keep,” and I write down a list of those items. Based on what you tell me is to be sold, I am going to mentally calculate my costs (labor, advertising, post sale cleanup, etc.) and estimate what the sale proceeds will be. I then quote you a fee, and if you agree, we sign a contract.

So far, so good. We start setting up for the sale and pricing items. Your brother shows up to pick up the roll top desk (which you told me was not going to be included in the sale), but while he is there he sees the Seth Thomas mantel clock that we’ve brought up from the basement and cleaned up. Brother had forgotten all about the clock, but now that he sees it he remembers winding that clock with your grandfather and he wants the clock. Which is fine – and let me emphasis this, I want him to have the clock because of the memories connected to it – but here’s the problem – I’ve based my fee on what you told me was for sale, and according to the terms of our contract if any item is removed from the sale after we sign the contract, I reserve the right to value that item and deduct my commission from the proceeds. Now you are stuck between your brother who wants that clock and the terms of our contract. Well, you say, I’ll just tell my brother that he has to pay for the clock. Believe me when I tell you this is just going to cause trouble. Brother is going to argue with my estimate of the sale price of the clock, or past family arguments about who got what are going to rear their ugly head. In the end no one is going to be happy.

Another variation on this theme. We start setting up for the estate sale and pricing items. This can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. One morning we arrive and after a few hours I realize that things are missing. I know there was a Rookwood vase on the bookshelf and a small oil painting hanging in the bedroom that I wanted to research further. Both are gone. I call you and you tell me that your sister was at the house to pick up the dining room set and you didn’t have time to meet her at the house so you just gave her the key. I ask you to call your sister, whereupon you find out that your sister brought her kids with her to pick up the dining room set, and your niece wanted the vase and the painting. Your sister is willing to pay for the vase, but the oil painting was something your mom bought at a garage sale for $10 so that is all she is willing to pay for it. I ask your sister to bring the oil painting back so that I can take a closer look at it and conduct research if necessary, but your sister doesn’t want to do that and a family argument starts.

All of this can be avoided if every item that the family wants is out of the house before we start setting up for the sale. I know this isn’t always possible, and in those cases we will move (if possible) any item that isn’t included in the sale to a separate sealed off room. But I’ll also ask that you and I have the only keys to the house and that one of us is present if a family member comes by to pick up an item that is not included in the sale. 

Next Blog – Why you don’t need to worry about what I might find in the house (‘cause I’ve seen it all).   

Visit us on the web at www.SomersetHouseServices.com.

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So why do you ask for that?

(Modified on 8/22/2011)

So, why do I ask for a copy of the Power of Attorney or the court order appointing you as Executor, and to see your driver’s license?  Because I’m very, very careful.  I want to make sure that you are who you say you are, and that you have the authority to sell the items in the house.  And if I sell the contents of the house, and you aren’t who you say you are, guess who is going to get sued? 

I don’t charge anything to come to the house and assess the situation, but once we have agreed on terms I will ask you to sign a contract that very clearly sets out the terms of the sale.  This protects both of us.  I put in writing what I’m going to do and what I’m not going to do (there are some things I won’t touch with a ten foot pole such as live racoons and leaky cans of some unknown substance in the garage that is eating thru the floor – I will however be more than happy to arrange for Critter Control or a specialty hazardous waste company to take care of the problem).  Also, the fee for my services is clearly stated in the contract.  I know some estate sale companies don’t bother with a written contract but in my opinion that is just asking for trouble.

I will also require that only you and I have the keys to the house.  That means you will need to get the keys back from your brothers, sisters, friends, and/or neighbors.  And if you aren’t sure that you have all the keys (or the garage door openers) I’m going to strongly suggest that you change the locks and have the opener reprogrammed.  Because despite the fact that you’ve known these people for years, you don’t know what they might do in this situation.  People have an amazing capacity for rationalizing sneaking into the house in the middle of the night and appropriating items.  I’ve heard it all, including “Thelma told me that she wanted me to have those chairs”, “I gave that to mom, she’d want me to have it back”, “My sister got the clock so it’s only fair that I get this”, and the ever popular “it was just a piece of junk, no one would have bought it anyway.”   Why take a chance when all of this can be prevented? 

Next blog:  Why it is better (for both of us) if every item you or your family want to keep is out of the house before we sign the contract.

Visit us on the web at www.SomersetHouseServices.com

Posted in Estate Sales | Tagged | 2 Comments

Searching for Assets on the Internet

The internet is an invaluable source when searching for lost assets.  The first step is to gather as much information as you can on the decedent – date of birth, date of death, social security number, name of parents and spouse, all addresses or cities/states the person may have lived, etc.

I start with the Unclaimed Funds Division in any state that the decedent lived in.  In Ohio the link is http://com.ohio.gov/unfd/treasurehunt.aspx.  If the decedent ever lived in another state, I always run a search on www.missingmoney.com, which is a database that covers most states.  If your state is not in the database, a simple Google search will lead you to links to other states’ unclaimed funds websites. 

Another site that I always check is the U.S. Treasury’s website for savings bonds, www.treasurydirect.gov/TH/THGateway.  You’ll need a social security number to use this database, and it only lists bonds that have stopped earning interest, so if there is no listing on the database it is always a good idea to send a letter to the Bureau of Public Debt requesting a search for any savings bonds registered in the decedent’s name.

For Credit Union accounts check www.ncua.gov/Resources/AssetMgmtCenter/Unclaimed.aspx

While searching the decedent’s house did you come across an award from a former employer that has gone out of business?  There are 36,000 people on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s unclaimed pensions database.  You can run a search at www.pbgc.gov.

Was the decedent a veteran or the spouse of a veteran?  There may be a life insurance policy thru the Department of Veterans Affairs.  You can check at   www.insurance.va.gov.

Is it possible that the decedent had a life insurance policy or annuity?  If you are the authorized representative of the decedent (Executor/Administrator), the Ohio Department of Insurance will submit a request to all Ohio licensed life insurance companies on your behalf.  The search form and instructions can be found here  http://www.insurance.ohio.gov/Consumer/Pages/MissingLifeWebpage.aspx.  If your decedent ever lived in another state, you should also check with the Department of Insurance in that state to see if they offer a similar service.

What to do if you don’t have the time or inclination to search for possible assets?  Hire us to do the searching for you!  We offer this service on either an hourly or contingency fee basis.  Inquiries can be sent to  SomersetHouse@SomersetHouseServices.com .

Visit us on the web at www.SomersetHouseServices.com

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Finding Treasure: Document Review & Asset Research

I get a lot of questions about the Document Review & Asset Research service that Somerset House Services offers.  This is one of my favorite projects, (I grew up on the Nancy Drew mysteries), and I love finding assets for my clients.  Usually this is a referral from one of the attorneys or accountants that we work with, and frequently the person had dementia or a history of eccentric behavior.  I start by talking to the client about the personality of the decedent or ward, their family history, past employment, hobbies, etc.  Sometimes that’s not possible – at the moment I’m working on a project where an attorney has been appointed guardian for a woman that has dementia and no family – in that case I’ll talk to the neighbors, especially neighbors that have lived there a long time.

 The next step is to go thru all the documents at the house.  Old mail, tax returns, bank statements, duplicate check carbons, receipts, military records, paystubs, advertisements torn out of magazines – all of these can provide leads on possible assets.  I’ve found all kinds of assets from going thru old mail and tax returns, including bank accounts, investment accounts, annuities, out of state property, life insurance policies, stocks and bonds, etc.  Bank statements, especially old bank statements, are a gold mine of information.  I look for a pattern of deposits and withdrawals, such as a deduction for the purchase of savings bonds or the rental of a safe deposit box.  In one case the decedent had closed the bank account years ago, but unknown to anyone he went to the bank once a year and paid the rent on the safe deposit box, and when it was opened it was full of gold and silver coins.

 Then we search the house.  At this point I have a good idea of what to look for.  Did the individual have a safe deposit box and close it several years ago?  Are there ads torn out of magazines for coins?  Were there large withdrawals of cash in the last few years?  That is a good indication that assets are hidden in the house.  Men and women tend to hide assets in different places.  Men usually hide assets in the basement or garage, whereas women usually hide assets in their bedrooms or in clothing or shoes.  But there are exceptions so we search everything.  I’ve found gold jewelry in the bottom of a basket full of old bills, coins in the bottom of sewing baskets, and cash everywhere you can think of – between the leaves of books, taped to the back of drawers, between towels in a linen closet, in the bottom of an old coffee can full of nails in a garage, etc.

 Next blog – searching for assets on the internet.

Visit us on the web at www.SomersetHouseServices.com

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Estate Cleanouts: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, Part II

In the previous blog I covered the “good” and the “bad” estate cleanouts.  Now for the “ugly”.

 An “ugly” estate cleanout is where the condition of the house is so bad that you wonder how any human could have lived there.  You open the front door and the smell hits you first – rotting trash, pet odors, mold.  There are piles of newspapers, mail, clothes, and trash everywhere.  Rooms where you can barely get the door open because of the amount of stuff inside.  Everything is covered with a thick layer of dust, the bathroom and kitchen are caked with filth, the basement is full of moldy boxes and the attic has live critters.

 The executor or guardian has taken one look at this mess and backed right out of the house.  Then they call us, and we roll up our sleeves and go to work.  We put a dumpster in the driveway or on the street, start with the room closest to the dumpster and work our way inside.  Anything that can be sold is set aside for auction, everything else is searched thoroughly for cash, coins, jewelry, savings bonds, etc., and then out it goes into the dumpster.  Once we have emptied the house we usually have to pull up the carpets because of the smell, and then we clean the house from top to bottom. 

 It’s a hard job, and absolutely brutal if we have to do one of these in July or August.  But there’s something about bringing order out of total chaos that is very satisfying, and it’s a real thrill when I get to call the executor and say “Guess what I found in the house…”

Visit us on the web at www.SomersetHouseServices.com

Posted in Estate Cleanouts | Tagged | 2 Comments