When a parent downsizes, moves into a long-term care facility, or passes away, it can be difficult to address the issue of what to do with all of their family heirlooms. Many members of the baby boomer generation collected china, crystal, and flatware – something that younger generations do not value as much. Often, these items are donated or thrown away because those who are left to sort through it are working under time constraints, dealing with a stressful time in life, or are grieving the death of a parent.

If your older relatives are still living at home, now is the time to start thinking about what you plan to do with their furniture, china, crystal, flatware, jewelry, artwork, and other collectibles when the time comes. Although this is an unpleasant topic, it is one for which many children are unprepared for and unwilling or unable to face when the time comes.

One problem is that the value of many one-revered pieces of household furniture has taken a dramatic decline in recent years. Items like dining room furniture, end tables and armoires are no longer in style, and on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow, prices for certain types of antique period furniture have dropped so much that episode reruns have begun to note the current lower estimates instead of the high estimates given at the time of original airing.

If you have many antiques or lots of furniture, you may think that your children and grandchildren will be willing to take them once you pass away. However, in recent years, young couples starting out have been less willing to accept hand-me-downs such as formal china and dining room sets. Instead, younger couples are known as the “Ikea and Target generation” – they live minimally, move around more frequently, and tend not to have as much of an emotional connection to furniture and collectibles as earlier generations did.

Unfortunately, selling pieces to antiques dealers may not be a viable option either. In recent years, according to Carol Eppel, an antique dealer and director of the Minnesota Antiques Dealers Association in Stillwater, Minn., says her customers are far more intrigued by Fisher Price toy people and Arby’s glasses with cartoon figures than sideboards and credenzas. Even charities like Salvation Army and Goodwill frequently reject donations of home furnishings.

However, there are some types of antiques that may still hold value. For instance, Midcentury Modern furniture — think Eames chairs and Knoll tables — is pretty trendy. Additionally, very high-end pieces of furniture, nice jewelry, good artwork, and Oriental rugs may be able to reach a pretty penny at resale. Unfortunately, for most people, their parents bought items that were mass-produced, as so don’t hold as much value.

Below are eight tips for “unfurnishing” your parents’ house before the task becomes overwhelming:

1. Start mobilizing while your parents are around. If your parents are still alive and able to communicate with you, learn the back-story behind any important pieces of furniture. This can either help you decide if you want to hold onto it or can give you a good selling point for the item at an auction.

2. Give yourself plenty of time to find takers, if you can. If you wait until there is a time crunch to sell items, then you will most likely sell it to the first bidder instead of the highest bidder. If you have time and extra storage space, waiting to sell an item is always best.

3. Do an online search to see whether there’s a market for your parents’ art, furniture, china or crystal. If there is, see if an auction house might be interested in trying to sell things for you on consignment.

4. Get the jewelry appraised. It’s possible that a necklace, ring or brooch has value and could be sold.

5. Look for a nearby consignment shop that might take some items. Or, perhaps, a liquidation firm.

6. See if someone locally could use what you inherited. If there is a local shelter, crisis center, or other institution that could use items you cannot sell, this is one way to help your community.

7. Download the free Rightsizing and Relocation Guide from the National Association of Senior Move Managers. This helpful booklet is on the group’s site.

8. But perhaps the best advice is: Prepare for disappointment. For the first time in modern history, two generations are downsizing at the same time – baby boomers’ parents and baby boomers themselves. This leads to a multitude of extra collectibles and antiques. When supply goes up, demand goes down.

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Scott Alperin
Experienced Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney Serving Virginia Beach Area Clients Since 1994.
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