This is the third post in my blog series “Estate Mistakes”. So far, we’ve talked about heirs throwing away a fortune, and a married couple causing their heirs years of emotional pain and misery due to improper estate planning.
Now, I’d like to share a story about a retired couple downsizing from their large urban family home to a quite retirement community patio home. That, and all the money they wasted along the way.
Let’s call our couple Bob and Martha, just because.
Bob worked for a mid-sized equipment company for 35 years, the last 20 as a top tier sales executive. Bob made a lot of money. Not an obscene amount of money, but more than enough to live very comfortably.
Martha was a school teacher, and then a stay at home mom for several years. She spent her last 15 working years teaching English to native Spanish language adults. She tucked away and invested a significant amount of money.
When Bob and Martha finally retired for good, they decided that they no longer needed or wanted the large family home that they had lived in a raised their four children in. It wasn’t a mansion, but it was a rather large home in a nicer neighborhood.
They found a nice retirement community with small patio homes perfect for their needs. They sold the family home, put all of their excess belongings and furniture into storage, and moved into the retirement home of their dreams.
Fast forward ten years:
Bob has been having more and more health problems. First his eyes, then his back, and then his heart. Martha is doing okay, but she worries more every day about the increasing financial burden they are facing.
The insurance takes care of most things that Bob needs, but there is a lot that it doesn’t cover. Then of course there is only so much money in the retirement account. It’s tight at times with the house payment, utilities, food, and then there are the monthly fees on three storage units.
Three storage units! Martha can’t believe that they are paying so much for storage each month, and they still have a spare room and three closets packed full of things they don’t have a place for.
Five years on:
Sadly, Bob passed away just a few weeks ago. His heart finally gave out. Martha is now working with her oldest child to figure out what to do next. Clearly the house in the retirement community will have to go. Of course, that just means trying to find a way to store more things that she won’t have room for in her next abode. All that storage…
Six months later:
Martha finds a small efficiency apartment not too far away from one of her children and a two of her grandkids. It’s not much, but it will do. Of course, there is even more in storage now that she is having to pay for, but what is one to do about it?
A few weeks in to Martha’s new existence, her oldest grandson stops in to visit. Mike is 28 and newly married. He’s just moved back from Texas where he went to school, met his wife, and lived for several years. Mike and Martha talk for hours. Other than a brief trip home for his grandfather’s funeral, Mike has been away from the family for years. Mike wasn’t fully aware of all of the details of his grandparent’s lives since he was a teenager, and Martha is doing her best to fill him in on everything.
About an hour into their conversation, Mike stops his grandmother with a question. “Grandma, why have you been paying to store all of your old stuff for all these years?”
Puzzled, Martha replies “What do you mean? What else were we going to do with it?”
Mike asked his grandmother, “Why didn’t you just sell the stuff? Surely you could have used the money. You knew that you would never have a use for any of it anymore, and yet you chose to pay to store it. Why?”
Needless to say, at this Martha was dumbstruck. This was something that had never occurred to her or Bob. Two very smart people, and yet not aware enough to think about the long-term burden of assets stored vs. the value of assets sold. The thought of all the money wasted, all the money not realized and used for positive purposes. What a waste.
Over the next year, Martha rectified the situation and sold off everything and banked the funds. The additional money has made a significant difference in her lifestyle. She still lives in the modest apartment, but she no longer worries about money for the little extra things that may come along. She certainly no longer worries about paying those monthly storage fees.
I met Martha about a year ago. I was one of her last stops along the way of selling off her unwanted/unneeded possessions. I helped her out with a small, but valuable coin collection. Over the course of our dealings she told me her story. Sort of a cautionary tale from an elder to a somewhat younger man.
Downsizing, rightsizing, whatever kind of transition a family may go through, don’t let the baggage of the past weigh down the future. Turn those unnecessary, unneeded, and unwanted things into the money that is always necessary, needed, and wanted.