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RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES—Column #1118

by Harry Rinker (11/25/08).

Antiques and Collectibles at Residential Care Facilities

When I do an appraisal clinic at a residential care facility, I expect to see some great stuff. When individuals downsize, they take their most treasured possessions with them.

Prior to appraising, I explain the guidelines I plan to use, e.g., all values are retail and family value is an emotional and sentimental value, not necessarily a dollar value. Can family heirlooms have substantial monetary value? Absolutely!

America’s residential care facilities are antiques and collectibles treasure troves. I speak from firsthand experience. When my appraisal clinic concludes, I often am invited to visit the rooms of one or more residents. I see period furniture and tall case clocks, eighteenth and nineteenth century corner cupboards filled with ceramics, glass, and metals from those same eras, childhood toys, and a wealth of other objects.

I vividly remember my first lecture at a residential care facility. It was in the mid-1980s. When the lecture was over, I went to the room of a resident to look at a table. There I encountered one of the finest Philadelphia, Hepplewhite, drop leaf tables I have ever had the privilege to handle. I still dream about it.

Unfortunately, there is another aspect to this story. Over the past year, I have had several phone calls and e-mails from heirs/executors of residential care facility residents asking me to provide a value for an object that was in a parent or relative’s room and which is now missing. No one, not even the resident if alive, is certain when the loss occurred. The object was there one minute and gone the next. All the inquirer can provide is a verbal description. I love playing “Guess the Goodies.”

Theft is a problem in residential care facilities. This column focuses on how to prevent theft and loss of antiques, collectibles, and other personal objects in residential care facilities that provide unassisted, assisted, and skilled care. It does not deal with identify theft, another major concern.

When moving into a residential care facility, ask for a copy of the facility’s theft & loss policy and program. If one does not exist or is not available in printed form, think twice. Copies should be provided to the prospective resident as well as the resident’s family member, agent, or legal representative.

Make a detailed inventory of all personal belongings. Since inventories often ask that clothing and daily need items, e.g., eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc., be listed, I recommend three additional separate listings: (1) antiques and collectibles, (2) jewelry, and (3) household goods from furniture to ceramic, glass, and metal objects. Do not forget to include photographs and wall hangings in the household goods inventory.

These lists should be prepared on a computer or, if handwritten, in ink. The person making the list should initial and date it and ask a representative from the residential care facility to do the same.

In addition to the written inventory, take a series of general photographs of each room. Be thorough—better too many pictures than to few. Do individual and detailed photographs of key pieces, including the jewelry. Keep an album of these photographs in the room. Maintain the originals on a computer or disk in another location. When pieces are added or removed from the room, retake the appropriate photograph(s).

If possible without harming the object, place the resident’s name or an identification number on it. Like objects should be displayed or stored together, thus making it easier for the resident to enjoy or find them. Place a fluorescent dot beneath valuable objects so if moved or taken, the resident is aware of any change immediately.

Most residential care facilities are required to provide a secured storage area for residents. Some will install locks on cabinets or drawers if requested by a resident. Limit the number of individuals who have access to the keys or lock combination.

Residential care facilities do not insure the personal property of their residents, albeit they may be responsible, depending upon state laws, for property listed on a resident’s personal property list. Residents are encouraged to contact their insurance agent and ask about the applicability of renter’s insurance or a special personal property insurance policy.

If a loss with a current market value of over $25 occurs, the resident or his/her representative should report it to the facility. The facility will document the loss. If the loss exceeds $100, the facility also may be required to report the loss to local law enforcement. Many residents are reluctant to report a loss, believing they have misplaced the item and not wanting to be embarrassed when the object is found. Encourage residents to report all potential losses promptly. The old cliché better safe than sorry applies.

I do not agree with those individuals who argue that a person should not take anything to a residential care facility that they are not prepared to lose. Individuals should be surrounded by the things they love or those with the highest memory quotient. Adequate prevention is the key.
It is critical when placing furniture and other large objects in a residential care facility rooms(s) to leave adequate walking and sight paths. If the resident requires a walker, extra care must be taken to avoid the walker striking the antique or collectible.

Jewelry, whether precious or costume, should either be under lock and key or replaced with inexpensive reproductions. When one transitions from the period pieces to copies depends on the mental capacity of the resident.

Decreased mental and reasoning capacity is a product of aging. This occurs gradually and is often far more advanced than caregivers recognize When one hears phrases such as “he is having trouble remembering,” “he is slipping,” or “he is not as alert to today as he was yesterday,” it is time to intervene.

As long as a person is deemed competent, he has the right to control the disposition of his things. Power of attorney is not the same as legal guardianship. Having a person declared mentally incompetent is viewed as a last step rather than a preventative one. An honest valuation is critical.

Older individuals, especially those who feel death is imminent, exhibit a tendency to rid themselves of their possessions. If someone, e.g., a friend, advisor, or residential care facility employee, admires something, they often respond, “If you like it, take it with you.” The object can be and often is a family piece designated to be passed down in the family. The resident forgot.

First, it is essential the residential care facility have a firm policy that its employees cannot accept gifts of any kind from residents. Second, facility administrators must stop and question all individuals, especially if they do not recognize the person, leaving the facility with personal property. If they are not happy with the answers to their questions, they need to check with the resident source.

A family member, agent, or legal representative should inform the residential care facility of all personal property that is to remain in family hands following a resident’s demise. Once again, this is a slippery slope. The residential care facility contracts with the resident. If the resident is competent, the facility must abide by his or her wishes. The resident can change his or her mind.

The critical question is whether or not the resident care facility has an ethical and moral responsibility to notify the appropriate family member or agent. Do not assume it will. Ask.
Older individuals also are subject to unscrupulous individuals who attempt to buy objects, often at a price below existing secondary market value. Since the older resident has no awareness of the market, the value offered seems like a great deal of money for “that old thing.” Again, ask what policy, if any, the residential care facility has in place to prevent this from happening, both in respect to outside as well as inside (other residents, etc.) buyers.

Older individuals misplace things. Before assuming theft, conduct a thorough search of the resident’s apartment or room. Also make certain the lost item was on the inventory list. Memory play tricks on older people.

Be sensitive to the resident’s needs. If you remove an object, take the time to explain what you did. Take a picture of the object in its new location and give it to the resident so he will be aware of what has happened to it.

Antiques and collectibles belong at residential care facilities. Their survival depends on joint cooperation between the resident, family, agent, or legal representation, and the facility. A little sensitivity and firm policies are all that is needed to make their stay a positive one.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT?” streams live and is archived on the Internet.

“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web Site.

WorthPoint—Get the Most from Your Antiques & Collectibles

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