Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book review - The Boomer Burden

The Boomer Burden - dealing with your parents' lifetime accumulation of stuff
Author Julie Hall (The Estate Lady)
Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers
208 pages
£7.64 from Amazon

The review copy of this book arrived just as I was setting out for Oxford to attend my friend's funeral so I was in the right frame of mind for reading about the issues that Julie Hall deals with in this very practical guide. Like most people, though, I tend to avoid discussions about age, infirmity and dying, thinking there will be time enough to get things sorted. What I have learned from reading The Boomer Burden is that simple preparations now will save a lot of distress and difficulty later.

'Boomer' refers to those born between 1946 and 1964 so, technically, I don't fit. I missed out by about 4 weeks, having been born at the end of 1945 but I hope no-one will hold that against me. There have been many significant changes in society in our lifetime: people live longer; are more likely to leave home to study and work and establish their own home; are generally wealthier than previous generations so acquire far more possessions. These changes have brought many benefits but we haven't yet had time to establish systems for dealing with some of the problems that arise when traditional patterns of living are changed.

Many of my contemporaries, including my husband, have parents who are now in their eighties and nineties. Sooner or later, they have to make difficult decisions about care and living arrangements, about assets and property and disposing of all that stuff their parents have accumulated in their long lives. (The burden that is referred to in the title is the stuff and not the aged parents!) It is inevitably more painful and distressing to have to make those decisions when the family is already distressed by the infirmity or death of their parent than if they had been discussed and planned together at an earlier stage.

Julie Hall is an expert in valuing and liquidating personal estates. She has witnessed the problems that families face when their parents have left no will or clear instructions about their wishes. In The Boomer Burden, she identifies all the potential difficulties and offers her professional advice on how to deal with them and, better still, how to avoid them in the first place.

She deals with issues like the importance of making a will and leaving clear instructions about property and assets; how to protect your vulnerable relatives from unscrupulous scammers, neighbours and other scoundrels; how to get property valued and how to dispose of the junk and she gives some really useful advice on how to initiate those difficult conversations with the ageing parents and with the scattered siblings. Each chapter has a useful check-list and some real-life anecdotes to illustrate the situation.

The sticker on the cover says that this is 'A must-have book for every baby boomer' but I would say it is a must-have book for every family. If we could all talk more openly about what we would like to happen should we become too infirm to manage in our home, where we keep our important documents and what we would like to happen to our treasured possessions, it would prevent a lot of heartache for those who have to sort things out after we die or have to move to more suitable accommodation. It might also prevent family quarrels and even lawsuits.

It occurred to me that there are two ways of looking at the 'boomer burden' - the boomer generation has to deal with what their parents have accumulated in a long life, but we are also living longer and accumulating even more than they did. Do we really want to leave our children with the task of clearing our attics, cupboards and shelves? Reading The Boomer Burden has inspired me to start de-cluttering now. Well maybe after Christmas?


  1. Anticipating that leaving our "junque" undealt with (forgive the grammar) would put a burden on my children, when we decided to retire and scale down 20 years ago, we asked them to take what they wanted and then donated all the rest to charity.

    We also cleaned up our paper work and made copies of important documents for them to keep, so they wouldn't have to go through messy desks and file cabinets. Now of course everything's on my laptop instead of in a file cabinet and updated documents are emailed. I love technology.

    Unburdening ourselves was exhilarating. We left our old life with only what would fit into a small van (Dodge Caravan) and drove south to Florida.

    Several years later, my parents left their home of 50+ years and moved nearby, so we put their affairs in order in the same way. We handled their daily affairs, so they were able to live a relatively carefree life in their final years -- both were well over 90 when they died.

    I realize it's a lot harder if there are a lot of siblings (my brother and I were in agreement) or if parents stay in the family home long after they are capable of dealing with everyday life and don't want to make any decisions for the future or if a parent suffers dementia as my mother did. After my father died, we had a Power of Attorney, so when she became too ill to make decisions, we could make them for her instead of going through the nightmare of a court appointed advocate for her rights.

    It's difficult when the old order is dies no matter how much you try to smooth the way. As my brother said, "We're the elders now." Pretty scary thought.

  2. e, everything you say confirms what Julie Hall says in her book - that communication and organisation makes the difficult times easier for all concerned. I can see how setting off to start a new life with no clutter would be very liberating. Now all I have to do is persuade the MM!

  3. I purposely neglected to reveal that our clutter is back to its former level with a vengeance and my roomie is making noises about making another getaway.

    I'm willing, but don't have the energy to find a new place (he wants to go to the desert this time), furnish it, etc., so inertia will probably prevail and we'll stay put.

  4. I am relieved to know that you don't live on a plane way beyond my aspiration, e. I might just manage a short bout of doing the right thing if I know it is okay to slip back into my bad habits!

  5. Thanks for reviewing this book, I'd never really thought about this subject before but now I think I need to know lots more.

  6. Yes, I am always making de-cluttering resolutions. This is the first time in my entire life that I have stayed in the same place for nine years. As I now see it, the only advantage of moving is that it's an ideal time to ditch junk.
    I'll start tomorrow, ditching, not moving, I mean.
    Perhaps I should buy the book.

  7. Susie, I have lived in this house for 20 years come January - the longest period in one place in my life. First we stayed for the children to complete their education, then for my medical treatment and now because mother-in-law is 92 and probably wouldn't survive a move. I still live in hope of moving again and yes, it will be a great opportunity to ditch the clutter.

    I have hidden my copy of the book until after Christmas and then it is going to sit on the coffee table as a reminder to get on with things.

  8. m. I find when I leave something out in plain sight as a reminder to do something, it quickly fades into the background and so escapes notice.

    Nowadays, I must take the most ridiculous steps with reminders if something really, really needs to be done and even that doesn't always work.

    BTW - I finally read "The Guernsey ... " and found it delightful. You were right, it is beautifully written with just the right mixture of whimsy and poignancy.

    I'd ordered it weeks ago, but when I it arrived and I saw it was written as a series of letters, a format I usually don't like, I put it aside to bring to the library. Luckily I forgot to do so because one day it came about that I had nothing to read (don't ask) on hand, so I picked it up and didn't put it down again until I'd finished it.

    When I finally did take to the library yesterday, they were glad to have it. It seems there's a long waiting list for it.

    Thanks for the h/t.

  9. I'm delighted that you enjoyed it, e. We rarely see such a high standard of writing these days.


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