Have you ever gone to an estate sale? As you walk through the home of the previous owner, what thoughts are in your head? What are you feeling? I have found myself having difficulty not feeling like an intruder or feeling guilty or disrespectful, especially in rooms of the home you often don’t see when visiting a friend or family member’s house (the bedroom, for example). Yet an estate sale is often a helpful and necessary way to find a new home for much of the contents.
Dealing with our “stuff” is often the most painful part of the process after someone has passed away. There are memories, gifts, and family heirloom facts associated with “stuff” that can make that time especially difficult. “I have no idea where she would want this to go!” “I am not sure what she would have wanted to do with this item.” “I can’t be sure this is what she would have wanted.” These are all common thoughts that go through family members’ minds.
So, anything you can decide in advance to identify what you do care specifically about will truly be a gift to your family. They will be relieved to know that this is what you wanted. It may feel morbid to think about it, but you are saving them unnecessary stress.
For your “stuff,” you can make a list, technically called a Personal Property Disposition List, to identify what you want to go to who. No attorney is needed and you can keep it with your other estate planning documents to be replaced anytime you want to update it. Be sure to be descriptive enough to identify the item clearly, name the person (don’t just say daughter, for example), and then sign and date the list.
Have you also put in writing or at least spoken with your health care agent about your wishes for organ donation, burial vs cremation, and service preferences? The potential for having to transport a body (if someone passes away out of state from their home) has definitely been a part of family decisions to choose cremation as more families travel than in the past. Then disbursement of ashes would be the next decision in that case.
How Much Detail?
I know people who have planned their entire funeral from the obituary to music to pallbearers to the menu. A site, www.funerals.org, has lists of things to think about. I love their motto: Losing a loved one is hard. Planning a funeral shouldn’t be. Myself, I don’t want that much control and will be fine with whatever my family deems appropriate at the time. But we do have a Final Disposition form completed to clarify a few preferences. If you don’t have things in writing, it can become a he said, she said situation that often leads to nothing but hard feelings.
Besides my book, The “Before” Financial Checklist: 15 Important Actions to Complete Before the Loss of a Loved One, there are many others out there ranging from serious to not so serious but still helpful: Dying to Know, What if…Workbook, Checklist for My Family/Family Survivors, and Now What? to name just a few. Most of us who have written one of these books have done so because we have seen how much of the stress many families go through can be significantly minimized.
The Best Last Gift
You may have heard me say this before, but it is so true…getting financially organized and documenting your wishes is the best last gift you can give your family. Take care of all that during the calm time of life before the storm later when the end is near. This will allow you to think clearly and act rationally to put your financial house in order now.
Envision strangers traipsing through your home for an estate sale. Would you be upset if certain items didn’t go to a worthy cause or a specific family member or friend? If not, no action is needed. If so, be sure to put your preferences in writing about all those seemingly morbid details.
This article was first published at 60 and Me – a community that helps women over 60 live happy, healthy and financially secure lives.