As hard as it is to think about, the end of life will involve your loved ones cleaning out your home. At Merriman, we work with you and your estate planning team to get your financial affairs in order, both to ensure your wishes are met, but also for the ease of those people in your life who are most important to you. Margareta Magnusson recently published a book entitled The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. Swedish death cleaning? While the sound of it may make you a little nervous, it’s a useful tool to cut down on possessions in a service to your loved ones and a fulfillment of that same goal.
The basics of Swedish death cleaning involve slowly giving away or selling the possessions that you don’t need. While it may sound like any other decluttering program, it will help you change your thought process around each item to focus on how it factors into your life now, and how it will factor into your loved ones’ lives later. Instead of asking yourself whether you like something and want to keep it for yourself, you’ll start asking whether you need things now and whether others will want and/or need them later.
Magnusson suggests starting with something easy, like your closet, where it’s quick to see what you really use and don’t use. If you’re not wearing it now, it’s time to donate it, gift it to someone important to you, or sell it. Avoid starting in an area of the house where you’ll find lots of sentimental items, like pictures or souvenirs, and focus on those areas filled with less special “stuff” first. You’ll get in the habit of reframing your decisions around the items to fit your end goal, making things easier on your loved ones.
As you get into the more sentimental and emotional areas of your home – photo albums, high school memorabilia, etc. – Magnusson suggests answering the question, “Will anyone be happier if I save this?” While your high school yearbook may bring back fond memories, it may not provide much joy to your children or grandchildren. These areas of the home may also be filled with items you want to end up with specific family members or friends. Now is a good time to do one of two things. Either give special items to loved ones now, maybe for a birthday or holiday gift, or “just because,” or create a list of items you wish to distribute at the end of your life and include this with your estate planning documents.
Here at Merriman, we do our best to help you get the necessary legal documents in place to ensure a smooth transfer of your assets to your loved ones, family, and/or charities. We don’t often talk about the way your material possessions can fit into this. You may own heirloom furniture or a set of china from generations ago that you have specific wishes for.
As you get your other estate planning documents in order, consider starting your “gifts list” for your possessions as well. This clean-out process is also a great opportunity for you to gather important digital information, like login details and passwords, as well as the most important financial information and contacts your loved ones will need when you pass. Keep these documents in a safe place and let relevant people, like the executor of your estate, know where they can find it. Doing these things now can be a true gift to your loved ones who will want to focus on remembering you and your life, not cleaning out your closets or tracking down your financial planner or attorney. You can even consider going a step further and planning a pre-paid funeral, taking yet another task away from your loved ones.
It may be hard or feel morbid, but planning for the end of one’s life can offer a feeling of peace for yourself and your family. We’re here to help you ensure your wishes are met, both for your financial assets, real estate, or material possessions. Let us know if you have questions about getting planning for your legacy. We may just offer a few decluttering tips in the process!