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Distributing and Shipping a Loved One’s Estate Around The World

A Personal Account of Distributing and Shipping a Loved One’s Estate and Possessions

My great aunt Jane passed away last month. She was in her 90s and had been ill recently so her passing wasn’t unexpected. But being appointed the co-executor of her estate was a surprise! It fell to me, her lawyer said, because I lived in the same town, while her children and grandchildren had spread out across the country. The lawyer would take care of the bills and paperwork but Great-Aunt Jane had decided it would be easier for me to deal with her household, including her two elderly Yorkshire terriers, than to ask one of her children to fly home to do it.

Mind you I quite liked Aunt Jane (though the dogs were another matter), and when she had become housebound I had taken to dropping by and bringing groceries or driving her to the doctor or her hairdresser. I just wish she had mentioned it to me so I could have been more prepared.

Thankfully, Aunt Jane’s will was quite detailed with instructions about which items would go to whom. Nevertheless, dealing with the distribution of an estate is not a simple task, and I was overwhelmed at first. I work full-time and have two young children, and I just did not see how I was going to manage going through everything and packing and shipping it all!

I thought the small things would be easy, but of course those were the fragile Lladro figurines and the full 16-place settings of china, going to her daughter Laurie in Maine. What if something broke? Weren’t those figurines expensive? And then there was the lovely old, and quite large Queen Anne armoire to be shipped to Cousin Theodore in New York – surely the post office wouldn’t take that – and Jane’s extensive vintage hat collection to Cousin Sophie in Ohio. I sat at Aunt Jane’s kitchen table and made a list of all the destinations and came up with seven in the U.S., one in Japan and one in Europe!

Those last two worried me the most as it meant dealing with international shipping and customs and insurance forms. I seriously considered putting the items in storage and asking Cousins Daniel and Emma to come pick up their inheritance for themselves! But that wasn’t the worst of it! Aunt Jane had left instructions that she was to be cremated and sent to her original home in the Midwest for burial next to her husband (poor Great-Uncle Joseph had died many years ago). How on earth was I to ship Aunt Jane?

I was sitting at the table with my head in my hands when there was a knock at the back door. It was Jane’s long-time neighbor and old gin-rummy partner, Norman. “What’s up doll?” he asked. I spilled out my troubles to him just as Jane had done through the years and just as reliably he came up with a solution. “What you need is an estate shipping service!” he proclaimed.

He went on to explain that a professional shipping firm could come to the house, inventory all the items, pack them all and ship them to the heirs – even the ones in London and Tokyo! He helped me look some up in the yellow pages and then it was a matter of a quick telephone call to arrange a meeting.

The representative met me at Jane’s house the next day and, will in hand, we toured the premises and I explained where all the items were to go. He assured me it would be no trouble whatsoever to ship the armoire to New York and the book collection to Japan. They would even help with the insurance and custom forms, provide all the packing materials and do all the packing themselves!

A week later all the items in Aunt Jane’s will were on their way to their destinations and Aunt Jane herself was headed home to Uncle Joe. As I stood in her doorway and watched the Queen Anne armoire, securely packed in a large wooden crate, carefully loaded onto a truck I was filled with a sense of satisfaction. My job as executor was done – and thanks to the shipping firm it turned out to be much less complicated than I thought.

I locked the door of the house – tomorrow I would hand the key over to the realtor – and gathered up the leashes of Sporty and Sprite. The old yorkies would go home with me. Too bad the shipping firm couldn’t have helped me with them!

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