Aging Parents: Their Possessions, Their Money– Now and After Death

What is it that fractures families after parents die?
Reducing the risk


 When I was around 21 years of age, I remember going to the new home of my boyfriend’s friend, Pete. Pete lived at home with his mother–a somewhat zany, delightful, divorced, Aunty-Mame-type. I’ll always remember entering that home (she wasn’t there). Her son laughingly pointed out the little notes with her children’s names affixed to the back of her paintings and other valued possessions.

After 3 divorces and three children from two fathers–in retrospect–wasn’t she  smart about making her final wishes known–at least for these important possessions? Who was to inherit what, was no secret. But this is unusual.

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Emotional Attachments

More common is the emotional attachment adult children have to certain items that parents may–or may not–be aware of. And, of course, there are “different strokes for different folks.”

–Aunt Millie’s tea-pot. I remember a colleague’s concern that a tea-pot that had been passed down in the family not go to her brother, but rather to one specific daughter of her brother. She was adamant. It was in her will.

–On the other hand I was given my grandmother’s engagement ring and have no idea whether family members were aware of it. As a little girl I played “dress up” with any jewelry (valuable or not) I could find in a jewelry box. I could be in my pajamas adorned with jewelry–clothes didn’t matter. I’m guessing my grandmother knew I loved jewelry.

–Yet my brother and I were directed to share all of our parents’ possessions and/or proceeds from their sale. We didn’t like the same things. That worked well for us.

Is it crass for children to mention things they hope to inherit from aging parents?

Talking about and even thinking about death is uncomfortable for many parents and their adult children. That said: If it’s a comfortable conversation–meaning if we feel comfortable talking about loving a parent’s possession–being proactive is fine. Chances are we’ll express this well and the conversation will go well. It’s when we aren’t comfortable talking about something that our chance for success plummets and we need to try some other way or leave things to chance.

Sr. Advisor RHW, Esq., still-practicing trusts and estates attorney, advises his clients who don’t want to have end-of-life conversations with their children to put their intentions in writing (specifics in next post). Here’s the flip-side:

Explain about our love of/desire for a certain object in a handwritten note. Some of us express ourselves better in writing. Also important is getting the note to parents at an appropriate time; clearly we don’t want to wait until the last-minute when a parent is no longer “with it” or when it would be considered an insensitive time.

Other option: Do nothing.

Next post: THE MONEY  While acrimony caused by monetary wealth can be a media event when it concerns people of high net worth, many ordinary families face the same nastiness. We  just don’t hear about it.






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Flew cross country to find internet is out where we are staying. Sooooo until tomorrow, hopefully, Help! Aging Parents is taking time out.

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Aging Parents: LETTING GO and the CIRCLE OF LIFE

Dad and My Childhood best friend

Dad and my childhood best friend after Mom died

Dad died almost 11 years ago. We held onto the family home we grew up in so there would be continuity for my, at-the-time, very young niece. I was certain the home represented needed security and stability for her. I was also  trying my best to soften the loss of “Grandpa,” with whom she spent a great deal of time– often sitting on his lap in his blue recliner.

She was at the house most of the week after he died. When she asked why Grandpa died, I said something to the effect that God wanted Grandpa. An age-appropriate response, right? That 3-year-old memory, I realized, was much better than that of older people who would no doubt have forgotten that conversation. Her request of me several months later: “Would you please call God and ask him to send Grandpa back?”
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Memories came back in waves as Dad’s recliner, Mother’s china and various furnishings left our home thanks to the estate sale. Interestingly, they weren’t poignant nor did they engender sadness.

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

I have been asked often during the last week if I felt sad cleaning out the home. My answer: “No.”  Interestingly that was my brother’s answer also. Reminders of past moments and the people who were part of them take me back so many decades. Yet as a far-away-living child I knew my parents’ death was always a possibility and tried to make certain, as they aged, that there would be no unfinished business nor unspoken words as each visit ended.

I also think, as does my brother, that our home deserves a young family with kids–to slide down the banister and discover our hiding places in the big basement. And so I, a sentimental person, have done a pretty good job of letting go–I think.

Moving on happens. It’s difficult to control. Life in my parents’ home is coming full circle.

Family Photos

Family Photos

It will house a new family and children again. And my parents’ last gift to me is this mountain of stuff that–in the going through and reading–has helped make sense of much of my past…and our family’s past.

If your parents should leave you boxes and drawers to clean out, try to muster up the patience (most in my family can’t) to see this is an opportunity to fill in gaps and answer questions. You get to relive your parents as younger, healthy and strong. The illnesses and the caregiving recede. For me, it has provided closure; has made letting go easier; has been priceless.

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Cleaning Out My Elderly Parents’ Soon-to-be-sold Home



Going Through 80+ Years of Meaningful Moments

Then VP Richard Nixon–campaigning in Medford, Oregon and a vintage photo of boys playing marbles?


It’s tedious. Making decisions–what goes (and to whom); what stays; what we think we can sell, and what gets shredded on the (I think) first-generation shredder in my parents’ home. Tackling the many boxes’ contents can feel like a newbie’s climb up Mt. Everest. I’ve hated and loved every minute.

My grandfather was a fine-looking man, but died when I was in grade school.

Almost done

Almost done. The last box I hated going through bank statements–beginning with 1952.

I hated going through the bank statements with cancelled checks–going as far back as 1952. Equally bad, needing to shred every Medicare Summary sheet– social security # prominently displayed at top right. And there were the legal documents–read carefully one last time before going to the shredder.

I wondered about a stranger creating a false identity with a dead person’s once carefully-guarded information. Shred, shred, shred. Let’s not forget my parents’ passports. Shred, shred….except for the passport I saved belonging to a midget wrestler, Fuzzy Cupid (professional name), who’s in the World Wrestling Hall of Fame. Checked him out on Wikipedia. I know more about him then they. No photo in those days–just “Distinguishing Marks“….he had a birthmark in an unusual place

Dad was in the hotel business. You’d be surprised at the items left in the hotel’s safety deposit boxes in the old days. Some were saved in Dad’s file cabinet and desk drawer.

I was transported. Childhood memories were clarified by letters with new information and, of course, photos–formal pictures, snapshots, and Polaroids, along with very tiny shapshots from the ’30’s

In silver frames with intricate decorations, family members from the past filled the card table–2 columns separated by lineage, plus one column for my brother’s and my baby and growing-up photos. My grandfather, a handsome man, commanded the largest frame and was unceremoniously placed on the carpeted floor. He would have taken up too much of the card table space.

I’m still sorting the old photos–keeping too many, sending some to friends, throwing away others. Through this exercise our adult selves are able to step back into the past for a brief time. We view things from a different vantage point. And we gain closure.



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Help Aging Parents: A Plea for HELP!


Have you had this experience? If so, please respond with situation and resolution (or not) of problem using our blog email: or simply comment below. children in their 50’s-60’s and two elderly, ailing parents will be eternally grateful.

Details: Father and his wife (92 and 90 respectively) have been paying for Kaiser Plan Health Coverage for 25 years. Father’s prostate cancer of 20 years has metastasized to his ribs and tail bone, making it difficult for him to bathe himself and perform other normal daily functions. He just returned home after 6 days in the hospital and 12 days of rehab due to a fall. Other health problems: dementia, COPD and asthma.

The wife, at 90, has mobility problems, walks with a cane, can’t help husband’s physical needs.

The family interviewed caregivers before their father came home, some of whom didn’t want the job because–after hearing the situation—didn’t think he’d live many more months. That said, his Kaiser doctor refuses to give permission for Hospice. She says it’s “too early” and they can talk about it later.

Specifically, the children met with the Kaiser doctor last week and inquired about hospice or palliative care. The doctor said “when the time comes” it would be addressed and, according to the child who inquired, doctor looked puzzled that they knew about palliative care.

The Kaiser doctor further says if the kids don’t get their parents into assisted living or get home care help, both will end up in a nursing home. They have hired a caregiver, but funds are limited. They don’t understand why Hospice–or at the least–palliative care isn’t being offered.

This blog follower and her siblings are hoping you will respond asap with suggestions. They don’t know where to turn next.

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Aging Parent’s Homes: Estate Sale

We survived day one of the 2-day estate/tag sale. Admittedly I am very tired; am also fervently hoping to get a good night’s sleep tonight.

My energy level is its best in the morning. I’m tired at the end of a normal day–whatever “normal” is. And today, after rummaging through countless personal items (meaning they’d mean nothing to anyone else), I’m taking my own advice and crawling into bed.

Tomorrow is another day— estate/tag sale day at the house. I’ll try to write another post this week if/when normalcy returns.  Until then………..

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Aging Parents: Selling Parents’ Home

There’s going to be a moving/estate sale next weekend. 70+ years of things to go through and clean out. People running the sale come tomorrow. It feels like the locusts are going to descend and I need to take anything of value–sentimental or otherwise–to a safe place.

It has been a long while since my parents died. My brother and his dog have lived in the home for around 10 years. It’s the home we grew up in. And in spite of any problems we no doubt had in those days, we only remember what a great and secure growing up it was–in a neighborhood full of kids and parents who made certain we had something to do on the rainy weekends when we weren’t in school. The dads kind of traded off–trips to the zoo, the Portland Beavers baseball games, and home movies–the latter on the rainy winter weekends. We had vacant lots to play in and make huts out of the weeds. The photo I found of the boys’ club house (“No Girls Allowed” on the sign in front) is used on a previous post. When I have a moment I’ll find it and put in the link–but not tonight,

I found the picture of Dad’s old girlfriend. I’d seen it once before–many years ago when he was talking about his college days–before he met Mom. I forgot she was a nurse until I saw the photo of her in a nursing outfit–a pretty girl with her nurse’s cap atop her blond hair.

It was a surprise to find Mom’s college yearbook. She went 2 years to college as many females did in those days. I tried hard to find her picture and was only partly successful–in the place they had pictures of the girls in the dorms. I couldn’t remember her dorm–she didn’t speak much of her college days (Dad was just the opposite in that regard). Then suddenly I saw “Kidder Hall”–and that sounded familiar. Her name was there as a freshman–but, alas, no photo.

The most frustrating part was looking at photos of people with no names to identify them. I wonder what children of today will find in the way of photos when their parents are gone? Will parents will their smartphone, computer or whatever to one child or to all children so they can view the camera roll?

My brother had the good sense to leave town a few days ago, leaving me to go through everything by myself. Exhausting but also a way to have an intimate kind of closure. A cousin offered to help, but I liked sifting through things and stopping to read this or smile at that–without interruptions.

Tomorrow the locusts descend at 10 am. I still don’t have everything of value in a safe spot. I’m thinking I may not ever get to everything, what then? Hmmmmm. I guess that’s why we find some really good bargains at those estate/tag/moving sales.

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