The Process of Dealing With Aging Parents Estate
As I was researching resources for people dealing with their parents estate, I came across the unfortunately truncated title above. Look, I know that having parents in transition can be overwhelming, but honestly. It doesn’t have to come to that! In reality, the process is nothing so dire, but being the child or children designated to handle your parents belongings when they are no longer able can and will make one want to pull their hair out.
I am someone who has done the work of purging 30+ years of my parents household after my mom died and my dad moved out of their 2,500 square foot house. I know that the work of having to sort through every paper and picture, every tool and book can be both physically and mentally staggering. But I also know that it can be done. If you’re staring down the barrel of that task...don’t be afraid. You can do it.
The good news is that regardless of the scope of your task, there are things for which you can plan and, having planned, pave yourself a smoother course. There are also resources you can avail yourself of, which lend a whole lot of sanity to an otherwise daunting process.
Here are some of the things to be prepared for;
- Having certain items appraised for resale, like antiques, furniture, collectables and jewelry
- Coming up with a new filing system for important family records, making sure the right people have the right copies. Did your parents think to designate a medical proxy, a power of attorney, do they have a will and have they named an executor or executrix? Similarly, all titles, deeds, bonds, birth certificates and medical records should be kept somewhere safe but accessible. Depending on the state of affairs, it can be easy for these things to get lost in the shuffle.
- Deciding who you will donate to. There are lots of causes for different items. If you have a sort of generic pile, consider AmVets, since they will pick things up. For books, Indy Reads Books is a great place to give and there are multiple shelters always in need of clothes. Shredding. So much shredding of personal information that you don’t just want to pile in a dumpster
- Coming up with a plan to preserve the long stored history in media forms like cassettes, VHS and photos
- Does your parent have pets and are those pets able to go with them to their next destination or will they need to be re-homed?
And then there are things for getting your parent re-settled into their new digs, which like any move are plentiful. Things like;
- Having all utilities and mail forwarded
- Re-stock their new kitchen where needed
- Cleaning - the old place and the new
- Finding furniture that works for the smaller new place
Of course there is dealing with the home, itself, which can consist of anything from a regular sale and all of the comps, staging and marketing that go with it, to a short sale or even the process of transferring title. And that’s to say nothing of selecting their next residence, whether that be a smaller home with a reverse mortgage, an apartment or assisted living.
I can remember standing in my parents garage, surrounded by stacks of boxes taller than me and thinking “How am I ever going to get through all of this?”. Take heart. I’m telling you it can be done. Although I didn’t have the benefit of this knowledge during my tenure as estate manager, I have since learned that there are a variety of services out there which can lend some sanity to the job by taking care of things like arranging for appraisals of valuables, designing a master plan for the transition, organizing, professional moving, cleaning, assistance with resale of items, shredding and more. Here are a few in the Indy area that I found.
And as much as any of the practical points, I’d just like to say this; Give yourself a break.
Maybe you will have the luxury of a lot of time in which to undertake this project and if you do that’s wonderful. If it happens to be a very intense experience where a lot happens in a little time and it’s on you to manage everything that has to happen, while, P.S. regular life doesn’t bother to slow down, for God’s sake, give yourself a break. If your lawn doesn’t get mowed or your dishes don’t get done as often as they should during this time, it’s okay. Go for a walk, have a glass of wine. Something. Because this stuff is hard and that’s the truth.
Not only are you juggling the practical functions of managing what is often an emotional transition, but you’ve also got to deal with the fact that everything is a decision. There are three sets of dish ware. You will decide which to keep, which your cousin Anne should get, which you donate. You will be torn about what to store and what to just throw away. You will think about how something should really be done with all the photos you uncover, something other than just adding them to another box bound for storage and then you will look around at the mountain yet ahead of you and you will resign yourself to the fact that it will have to wait until another day. You will lose far too much time in contemplation as you uncover a thousand triggers of your own memory. Everything will need cleaning. Labeling things for sale takes a hundred times longer than you think it will. And, if you are doing this with other family members, you will have to reach consensus over and over and over again. I suggest you bring chocolate or wine to bargain and console yourselves with. It will ease the proceedings.
But most of all, it hits home, realizing there has been a reversal of roles. There is sorrow when you realize your parents no longer have the same capacity they used to for tackling mountains like this one.
And its hard. It’s a sober reminder that we aren’t as immortal as we think. I swear I felt every year of my life hanging from my shoulders as I contemplated the accumulation of two lifetimes. What were once the meaningful props in the lives of two people were sorted into black trash bags, retired into impersonal piles with clinical labels. Prices and destinations, measures of value but not of worth. Meanwhile, what really matters gets reduced to what fits in a suitcases and a few boxes.
What really matters sits in the front seat next to you, looking forlorn and anxious as you drive away. What really matters is waiting for you at home, the one you still have. In the end you'll pull out of the driveway of the family home for the last time and watch the porch shrink away in the rearview mirror, knowing that your memories will do the same the farther you go from this moment in time. The house that was once so full of Christmases and birthday and family dinners is now empty and sad and you will probably feel a pang as it disappears behind you. I did. So, don’t be too hard on yourself, because this process isn’t easy.
I hope these things help. If nothing else, you know you aren’t alone in the madness. That as much as we love our parents and are glad to do these things for them, in this task at least, we reap a portion of the craziness we sowed with our forebears in our youth. And it’s hard. But it’s okay. Although, when it’s all said and done, you may find yourself surprisingly motivated to do some purging of your own.
If you have a particularly useful resource for helping parents in transition, please leave it in the comments section!