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Pre-planning important in fate of estate items, charitable giving

Strategically placed on shelves and in cabinets throughout the home, family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation appear on display with crumbling masking tape bearing fading words denoting the future beneficiary. The simple tradition of carefully organizing and delegating beloved objects has been a common pastime for family members growing in age and looking to prepare for their own passing.

But what happens with all the other knick knacks and gizmos with no sentimental value? Preparing the estate ahead of time, making a will and discussing intentions with family is important in easing pressure and stress during a time of sadness and confusion after passing.

An estate sale or auction might be something to consider if belongings are abundant and items with sentimental value have already been divvied or arranged with the recipients.

“Prepare ahead of time,” says Scott Schuster of Schuster Auctioneering. “Sometimes people don’t do enough.”

This lack of preparation can become burdensome for family and friends who have been given no direction in a will or a discussion before their loved one dies.

Schuster says he has undertaken the difficult task of meeting with family at a funeral to discuss the possibility of an auction, which can be uncomfortable, but might be the only time members from across the country can meet in one place to discuss the process.

To avoid creating this whirlwind for loved ones, Schuster recommends meeting with an auctioneer to discuss the process.

Estate auction

Once family and friends are made aware of the wish to have an auction, and an auctioneer has previously been prepared for the future event, the process shouldn’t be as overwhelming as it could be.

Family members placed in charge of organizing the sale and preparing the items should speak with the auctioneer before making any permanent decisions with estate items, Schuster says, particularly those of higher value.

When the family is ready to move forward with an auction, which could be a matter of days, weeks, months or even years after the passing of a loved one, Schuster will visit the home and walk through the belongings considered for auction. He does note, the sooner the auction takes place, the better, because items are in their prime — clean, running and easier to sell.

“Sometimes it’s best for the family to meet first to find out what they want to keep and then decide if there are enough (items) to move forward with an auction,” he says, noting it’s important for the family to consider sentimental items and remove them from consideration as soon as possible.

From there, he’s able to determine whether there will be enough product to move forward with an event.

“If you are going to have an auction, don’t sell things ahead of time yourself,” he says. “Sometimes people sell the easy things first, and then, in the end, there’s not enough items to move forward with an auction. We especially need the larger items to pull in a crowd.”

Schuster says families who have sold prime auction items like cars, trucks, machinery and tools affect  the ability to have an auction. “You need those drawing cards to have successful auctions,” he says.

After working with an attorney or the family to coordinate the auction, a contract is signed. Schuster then moves forward with photographing items for publicity, discussing dates, times and locations for the event.

Generally, he says, auctions are held at the residence, which is much easier than hauling items from one location to another. On-site auctions are also preferred because neighbors often have a personal connection with the deceased and therefore tend to bid on items for memorabilia.

When all is said and done, the auctioneering service fees are deducted and a check is written to the party in charge. If the estate has not yet been finalized, the amount will be signed to the estate and later divided between the beneficiaries. If the estate has been finalized in its entirety, the company will write checks to each beneficiary as necessary.

Considering an estate auction for the sake of loved ones, especially to prepare them for the process ahead of time, is worth one meeting with professionals. “Talk to an auctioneer and see if you have items that (qualify) for an auction (in the future),” Schuster recommends.

Estate sale

Another option for clearing the remaining goods of an estate is an estate sale.

The practice of estate sales is booming in places like Minneapolis, but local residents have been receptive to the new opportunity.

It’s another option to easily generate revenue from unclaimed items. The process requires minimal effort by the family once placed in the hands of someone like Monty Whitney, owner of Victorian Rose Antiques in Grand Forks.

“In an estate sale, when the family turns the items over to me, it’s under my control to take care of all of it,” Whitney says.

An estate sale will usually take place at the residence of the deceased and remains open to the public for two or three days. Items are analyzed, priced accordingly and staged around the home for viewing.

Just as an estate auction, the family can choose to have the sale at any point in time after the death of a loved one.

“We have people who wait just a couple of months, we have people who have taken a couple years,” Whitney says.  “It just all depends upon what the family comes to an agreement on or what is stated in someone’s will.”

Whitney and his staff will walk family through the process and then evaluate the items available for sale, concluding whether a sale will be a possible success.

“We evaluate what they’re going to get rid of and consider whether it’s worth their time and our time to move forward,” he says.

If the estate has enough merchandise to engage the public, Whitney and his staff get to work preparing dates and times, cleaning, staging and pricing items. Photos are taken to advertise, particularly on the company’s Facebook page, and in the store located on South Washington Street.

A percentage of the total sales will be provided to Victorian Rose Antiques for their services and the remainder will go to the estate or beneficiaries.

Proving to be yet another successful option for clearing estate belongings with no sentimental value to family and friends, estate sales are a simple way to put the process in the hands of professionals and alleviate stress for grieving loved ones.

Charitable giving

With no one to list as a beneficiary and a strong connection to an organization or foundation, charitable giving might be the perfect solution for leaving estate funds, especially those generated by sales and auctions, to support a cause.

“Charitable giving to a will or trust is a wonderful way of supporting something that is close to you,” says Cliff Lura, director of charitable estate planning for the American Heart Association.

Lura takes his nearly 50 years of experience with wills and trusts on the road, offering public seminars, covering topics from start to finish, conducting several in the Grand Forks area over the years.

He also speaks personally with individuals about their wishes and guides them through the process of charitable giving. Any personal information discussed is confidential and is not a binding contract to donation. Rather, he will discuss options based upon personal specifications.

The first part of planning a charitable gift is calling the foundation to be funded. At that point, professionals for the organization can discuss the specifics of the company and give more information on the processes.

In the discussion, donors can designate branches of the organization to receive the funds — local, state or national branches. After choosing a location, the donor can also learn about how the funds are used.

Preparing a will or trust is the next step, Lura says. “A will or will and trust, must be done by an attorney, a tax ID number must be given to the charity and then the charity handles the transaction.”

If the transaction has been prepared with an attorney through the will or trust, remaining family members are free of any further action.

Donations can be sent anonymously or in memory of the donor.

“Of the requests we receive, about 60 percent of them we do not know anything about them, other than the trust or will,” Lura says.

And generally, the average person actively giving to charities has approximately four or five to which they are providing donations, churches being the most common organization, he says.

Lura most recently worked with a donor that managed giving to 30 charities.

He recommends starting early to plan a will for the inevitable, and his services include a planning kit for review before making any big decisions.

“The will-planning kit is a guide for listing all their assets — real estate, stocks, bonds, savings accounts, etc. — and how they want to dispose of them,” he says. “Whether they divide it up among their family, give it up to a charity for a certain percentage, the will-planning kit is an excellent resource.”

Lura is available for calls regarding the process and hopes it will instill a sense of calm in what can be an uncomfortable process.

“No time is too soon to prepare,” he says. “And the best part about it is, it’s free.”

To request a will-planning kit and learn more about the process, contact Lura at 701-212-5127 or