John Bullis: Be careful when disposing of personal property

When someone dies or transfers to Assisted Living, it is important to be careful on giving old furniture and personal affects to charity or selling items at a garage sale.

It was recently reported that a trio of college students in New York earlier this year bought a lumpy couch for $20 at a Salvation Army store. Then they found out why it was so lumpy. One of the students was inspecting the cushions to find the source of the lumps and found a bank bag filled with $100 and $50 bills. In total, the couch contained more than $40,000. A bank withdrawal slip also was there. The students tracked down the owner of the money, a 91 year old woman who kept her money in the sofa because she did not trust banks. The students gave it back! The woman’s children apparently gave her couch to Salvation Army when she went into the hospital last year.

A couple of lessons: One, the students were honest and did the right thing. Not all young people are greedy and many still do the right thing! Two, we need to tell the children (or whoever is helping with the care) more about our habits, desires and general information.

Recently one of our clients died leaving two adult children that both live out of town. The deceased has some old items that may be valuable. We suggested they be careful in disposing of the old furniture, etc. since some items might be antiques that are valuable. They will be careful in deciding which items to keep and which items to sell at a garage sale or give to charity.

The client also had a gun collection. The children will be getting good, trustworthy appraisals of the guns before selling them (neither wants the gun collection).

Part of the work in settling an estate or trust is to “marshall” the assets. That means gathering the assets together and being sure they are safeguarded and/or disposed of correctly. That includes being sure the house is insured and the utilities are continued until the house is sold. In this case, the house is at Lake Tahoe and you don’t want the heat turned off and have the water pipes freeze, etc.

Why not mark your antiques and collections with some notes for the survivors that explain something about the items and why the items are valuable. If you have some idea of the value, include that information. If you know of qualified appraisers, list the names and contact information.

Basically the idea is to be careful in disposing of items that may have more value than would appear at a casual glance.

Did you hear? “Love and share your feelings authentically with your family and friends. Make every moment count; this is the only time we have.”

John Bullis is a certified public accountant, personal financial specialist and certified senior adviser who has served Carson City for 45 years. He is founder emeritus of Bullis and Company CPAs.


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