Tips for Downsizing Seniors

For some well-prepared seniors, downsizing is an inevitable part of life that they planned for long ago.  Those parties may relish the idea of selling most of their belongings to seek out warmer climates or senior housing options where meals are prepared, lawns are maintained, and similarly aged friends are readily available for games and companionship.

For those who did not plan for downsizing, the event is not easy.  Some older adults pondering a downsized lifestyle have not moved in 30 or more years and need to literally downsize much of what they own.  Many families are separated geographically and adult children are often not able to help with the process due to distance, career, or family obligations.  For still others, living far away, the barriers may be financial.  Many seniors have no surviving children, or increasingly as life expectancy rates increase, their children may be older themselves and unable to physically or financially help.  If illness or death precipitates downsizing, the family may already be drained both emotionally and physically and unwilling or unable to help.

For those seniors who did not meticulously plan or for those whose life events require downsizing, this article is especially important for you.  Follow these tips:

  1. Don’t allow stuff to rule your life: As the senior population increases, the number of estate sales is likely to increase dramatically as well.  EstateSales.net defines an estate sale as “a way of liquidating the belongings of a family or estate.  These are usually much more than garage or yard sales.  They are used when someone is in need of a way to sell items due to downsizing, moving, divorce, bankruptcy, or death.”  According to statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services, by 2030, the number of U.S. residents age 65 and older is expected to reach 72 million.  The same research indicates 15% of those seniors will downsize and reside in assisted-living facilities.

While downsizing can be particularly difficult for seniors who find it overwhelming to let go of items they gathered over a lifetime, those same seniors may have unreasonable expectations about how much their items are worth.  Rarely do items sold on in a public sale bring the original cost of the item.  According to Julie Hall, who owns the American Society of Estate Liquidators, an organization that trains estate-sale agents to run organized estate sales and avoid conflict, the average estate sale proceeds are only $7,000-$15,000 nationwide.  To that end, if you are spending thousands annually to maintain, insure, and properly care for a home to store your belongings, perhaps downsizing is a better decision.

  1. Focus on items you use and let the rest go: Many seniors find comfort in surrounding themselves with items that once brought great joy but have little utility in their current lives; however, even photos, memorabilia, and collections typically take up more space than the average residential care facility can accommodate.  To that end, when discerning which items to retain and which items to sell or dispose of, keep those items you use every day.  If you are assisting a senior with the task of deciding what stays and what goes, allow them to discuss when each item was last used or whether their future surroundings will be enhanced by each item’s presence.  This process takes time, but in the end, it provides the senior a clearer perspective and the ability to let go.
  2. If an item is an intended gift to another upon your death, consider giving it now: Once you have established your Payable on Death and Transfer on Death non-probate transfer designations on titled assets and bank accounts, it is time to consider gifting. While it sounds reasonable to include many personal property items in one’s Last Will & Testament or Trust, those acts of giving will normally occur once the senior is dead.  Because this act of giving occurs after the decedent has passed, it is only probable the gift will find its intended recipient and not guaranteed.  In some occasions, family members or others help themselves to those items and they are never probated no seen from again.  Why not enjoy the feeling of giving the items now if your goal is to downsize anyway?
  3. Consider hiring an expert: In response to the growing number of seniors in the U.S., businesses that help older adults and their families with the daunting process of downsizing and moving to a new residence have begun to appear.  This fast-growing specialty called senior move managers is helping older adults at both the emotional and practical dimensions of late-life transitions. The ten-year-old National Association of Professional Move Managers has approximately 600 move-management company members (www.nasmm.org).  These experts use their experience to develop an overall move or “age in place” plan; arrange for the profitable disposal of unwanted items through auction, estate sale, buy-out, consignment, donation, or a combination of the above; interview, schedule, and oversee movers; arrange shipments and storage; and provide related services, such as cleaning, waste removal, shopping, senior escort, assisting with selection of a realtor and helping prepare the home to be sold.. Most reputable senior move managers outline the cost of a job by written estimate and charge an hourly fee that varies by locale.

If downsizing is in your future, plan now.  When possible, do not allow keeping a depreciated item prevent you from making the downsizing process successful.  Let go of unwanted or unnecessary items.  If gifting is an option for you, consider giving an item away and enjoy the thrill of the process while guaranteeing the recipient will possess the item.  Finally, when the need to downsize occurs suddenly or if you have failed to plan ahead, consider hiring someone with experience in the process and avoid laying the burden on family members and friends.

Todd Miller is the Senior Partner with the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999.  He was recognized as Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times and candidate for the “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys.  He formerly hosted a radio talk show entitled the “Mid-Missouri Legal Advocate” on KRMS News Talk 1150AM and 97.5FM.  You may also find him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter and striving to pick winning NFL teams in the weekly News Tribune 2015 Pro Football Contest.

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