Downsizing The S. Family

A significant administrative undertaking, most people tend to avoid planning a downsize inevitably encumbering family or friends with the task. Even families who believe to be organized for a future and inevitable downsize can find themselves stuck under the compounding weight of a complex family crisis. Such was the case for the S. Family.

Mr. and Mrs. S. had recently retired and practiced good financial habits their entire lives; they were enjoying their retirement comfortably. When they were not travelling, they were active in their community and spent their time watching their two adult children grow families of their own. One lived in another province and the other remained in the same neighbourhood.

Diagnosed with early-onset dementia within a few years of retirement, Mr. S.’s decline started slow, until it wasn't. He took a sharp downturn and had suddenly become dependant upon Mrs. S for nearly every aspect of his life. He could no longer drive, he could not run errands, and even the simple act of cooking a meal and remembering to turn off the stove was anxiety-inducing. Their kids and spouses gathered around them to help out where they could. It did not take long for Mrs. S. and their son, who had his career and personal responsibilities to uphold, to start feeling the effects of caregiver burnout, but they persevered. That is until Mrs. S. was diagnosed with terminal cancer that tragically took her life in a matter of months. Now, Mr. S., a shadow of who he once was, had lost his live-in caregiver and spouse.

“Friends” started to take advantage of his incapacitation “borrowing” money, tools, and electronics from the home. While running errands, taxi drivers would take Mr. S on meandering drives around the city pumping the meter for hundreds of dollars per trip. He was even convinced that his car required servicing (despite it being in mint condition), costing him thousands of dollars in alleged repairs. Mr. S’ son, fortunately, became aware of the situation soon after and realized he had to take on a more active role in his father’s care.

The administrative responsibilities that the family had organized within their professionally drafted estate plan went seamlessly. It was the weight of the day-to-day functions that had been taken for granted. Activities such as meal preparation, cleaning, home repairs, grounds maintenance, and even hygiene all fell by the wayside. The son would receive calls from the police, paramedics, or store owners daily advising him that his father had run into some form of trouble or another. The attention demanded from these calls required the son and his wife to step back from their busy careers – something Mr. and Mrs. S. would have not wanted. It was clear that Mr. S. could no longer live on his own.

After a surprisingly long search, and an adventure into his province’s senior support service structure, the son was able to have his father admitted into assisted living, but what next? Mr. and Mrs. S. had lived in a 3,000 s.f., 4 bedroom home with an attached three-car garage. The house had collected a lifetime of stuff. The family had by no means been hoarders, but furnishings, sports equipment, travel accoutrement, clothes for every occasion, tools for maintenance and hobbies, appliances, souvenirs, art, and even multiple cars; all added up. Now the questions began: what was Mr. S. going to need at his new residence; what would either of the adult children want to keep; and what was he going to do with the rest it?

He figured he'd sell off as much as he could, give away the rest, sell the house and roll the proceeds into financing his father’s assisted living. He would start with the big-ticket items and work his way down. Starting with the cars, on the first weekend available, he got them cleaned, took pictures, and posted the cars for sale on the usual online marketplaces. He quickly learned throughout the next weeks that the task before him would be enormous. After fielding many potential buyers and even meeting a couple of tire kickers who wanted to view the cars and present some tedious time-wasting lowball offers, the son was fed up. If this was how it was for the cars, what was it going to be like for the rest?

Also Read: Prepare for Downsizing as a Senior

Practical questions were posed like, who buys used appliances, clothes, and art? How valuable are they? Does each item have to be negotiated separately? Then subsequent questions arose like how long is this going to take? How much of a distraction is this going to be from work, or worse, personal responsibilities? Should I not be spending my spare time with my ailing father? When is it time to grieve? How much time will it take to sort this all out? In the end, with so many competing priorities and stresses, it was clear, that he needed HELP. He needed Downsizing experts.

This is where the team came in. A detailed survey of the home was taken, needs were discussed, a plan had been outlined. Mr. S. was already in assisted living and settled in with everything he needed at this stage. The focus was purely on the house and its effects. Shipping arrangements for the items that were destined for his sister were coordinated and from there, the careful and deliberate downsize of the house commenced. The team worked through the home coordinating the online auction and to the son’s surprise most of the items sold. The rest were reappropriated to their respective charities and then finally remaining items were recycled or sent for waste. The son was given updates on the progress regularly and on the occasion where an important document or item of obvious value was found, he was consulted so he could decide how he’d prefer it be handled.

Upon conclusion of the downsize, the house received a thorough cleaning and was transitioned to a realtor for staging and a quick sale. Throughout, the son was able to refocus upon his work and own family and use what spare time he had to assist his father in any way needed. The simple relief of stress offered by obtaining the assistance allowed him to start his way down the long road to healing from his family crises. In following up with the son months later, this is what he had to say:

“I'm so grateful I didn't have to manage the divestment [downsize] of my parents’ estate myself. Without the professional downsizing team, it would have taken months and a lot away from my personal life. I wish we had known about them earlier. It would have saved me a lot of headaches. I know that if circumstances were different, my parents would have obtained the same service for themselves. I would recommend the team to anyone and everyone!” - Tim S.

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