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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

De-Cluttering Your Life: Improve the Ease of Estate Administration

This is the first of a three-part article about the benefits of "de-cluttering" your estate.

The most consistent theme that we hear from people about estate planning is that they want things to be simple for loved ones. The prevailing wisdom is that if the proper legal documents are in place, the surviving family members will have an easier time winding up affairs. While it is important to have up-to-date legal documents, these are only half the story.

When I graduated from college, everything I owned could be packed into three bags. That sure made life easy when I moved to a new city. But that simple life has given way under years of accumulating personal property.

I have furniture, books, tools, automobiles, bicycles, golf clubs, camping gear, artwork, jewelry, computers, radios, TVs, children's toys, games, yard equipment, kitchen appliances, decorations, clothing, paperwork, photo-graphs, and personal memorabilia of all sorts. I use much of this stuff regularly, but honestly, there are boxes, closets, and drawers filled with things that haven't been disturbed for years. I like to think I haven't accumulated as much as other people because I'm not particularly sentimental about things.

Unfortunately, I'm probably fooling myself. It is frightening for me to consider the task that my children would face deciding what to save, sell, or give away if I passed suddenly. The reality of dealing with this stuff became even clearer recently when my wife was sorting through a storage unit filled with items from her mother's estate and found boxes and boxes of things that belonged to her grandmother, which had never been sorted.

Many of my clients find themselves in similar situations. So what steps can we take to "de-clutter" our lives and our estates from some of the stuff?

Here are a few suggestions that I offer to you and to myself.

1. Get Started. This may be the hardest part of the job. Pick a room, a storage unit, a closet, a file cabinet. Just choose one place to begin. If the job seems overwhelming, imagine what your family is going to feel if they have to undertake this task without your help.

2. Sort. Sort things into the following six piles:

  1. Keep—Be honest. Ask yourself, "Do I really need this?"
  2. Sell—You can try to sell your unneeded items on Craigslist or E-Bay or in a garage sale.
  3. Give to family or friends—You are bound to find things that will be cherished by friends or family members. Delight them with a gift of your old treasures.
  4. Give to charity—The Salvation Army and Big Brothers and Sisters run thrift stores that will pick up items you no longer want or need.
  5. Throw away—Have a large garbage bag so you can throw things away. This is a particularly good idea when you are sorting old paperwork.
  6. Treasures—You will come across some things that are genuine treasures. We will discuss what to do with treasures, artwork, and collectables in our next Newsletter!

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