Finding Peace With Your Possessions
You love your things – but how do your heirs feel about them?
BY JENNIFER MAY
It’s no secret that Americans love their stuff. When it comes to accumulating things, we are truly professionals. This stuff, also known as personal property, includes cars, boats, planes, motorcycles, jewelry, clothing, trinkets and home furnishings. Simply put, it is any property except real estate.
Accumulating mountains of stuff is all fun and games until a loved one dies. Cleaning out a loved one’s home and distributing their personal property presents a truly challenging and often miserable task. While it is easier to divide and distribute financial assets, personal property is a completely different animal.
Part of the problem stems from the unique nature of personal property. It tends to be relatively low in market value but high in sentimental value. Many families have ferocious fights over the silliest things – a favorite trinket or a painting of no value. Not only can these fights divide a family, they can also slow down the process of settling an estate. Not to mention, these clashes often create large and unnecessary costs.
Don’t let the distribution of your personal property be the cause of frustration, anger or resentment among your loved ones. Careful planning is the best way to avoid family feuds after your death.
When it comes to personal property, consider the following suggestions:
- Make your wishes and desires known and easily understood by providing clear directions on how and to whom your personal property shall be distributed;
- Communicate verbally with your family about your final affairs and wishes; and
- Gift the items during your life, rather than at your death.
The Swedes have a word for the process of getting rid of possessions toward middle age: döstädning, which translates to “death cleaning.” The idea isn’t as morbid as it sounds: Many people use springtime to clean out closets, attics and garages. The Swedish Death Cleaning practice takes this one step further. Paring down one’s possessions helps to declutter and streamline your living space, and it also creates an opportunity to reminisce as you go through things you might have not seen for many years.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard enough. If you plan ahead, you can lighten your loved ones’ burden by having less “stuff” to deal with upon your passing.
Assistant Vice President