This article is a collective request from your children, grandchildren and anyone else you leave behind to handle your affairs if you become incapacitated and when you pass away. When I meet with prospective clients for the first time, I learn about their financial holdings and liabilities. This includes their investment and bank accounts, real estate, life insurance and annuities, retirement accounts, vehicles, and their tangible personal property. This last one (the “stuff”) often turns out to be a bigger issue than clients realize.
Your kids don’t want your stuff!
Now, that may be a little harsh to acknowledge and not always 100% accurate; however, it probably holds more truth than most people wish to recognize (and it’s a provocative section title). Our clients routinely agonize over which family member is going to get this or that in their house; however, when they ask their kids about what it is they want, they are told “nothing.” Maybe the client feels that their kids are trying not to rush their demise (which is a very nice sentiment); however, in my experience, often the kids really don’t want their parent’s silver flatware sets, or one of the sets of fine china, or the Chippendale furniture, or the cut glass crystal. It’s not to say that these things aren’t nice or have no value, but your children may not have the same affinity for these items that you do. These things may not match their decorating style or lifestyle. Maybe, they don’t have room for them at their homes. Possibly, they would rather use paper plates and disposable flatware for family gatherings so that they don’t have to handwash the fine china and polish the silverware. The point is, you should not expect your family to share your love for these items. It is worth speaking with them to ascertain if they have an interest in these items; and if not, you should consider liquidating some of these things that you do not use or enjoy on a regular basis.
Why would I get rid of my stuff?
I am certainly not advocating becoming a monk and swearing off all of your worldly possessions. However an honest review of your ‘things’ periodically can be healthy and cathartic. At least once per year I will attempt to go through my house and put things into three, self-explanatory categories: 1) keep, 2) get rid of, and 3) unsure. Obviously, the “keep” stuff survives in my possession for another year. The “get rid of” stuff are those things that I have not used, or even laid eyes on, during the previous year. I will either donate these items or sell them (in some cases just throw them away as it turns out they are really trash and I was just lazy in keeping them in the first place). The “unsure” stuff is the hardest. The metrics I generally use are: 1) do I actually think I will use this item this year; 2) Is this an item that has some important sentimental or emotional meaning for me, and 3) is this a cyclical item (I use it every few years and it is otherwise hard or expensive to replace). I do this exercise for a number of reasons. First, I personally feel calmer when I am not awash in clutter at home. Next, as a trust and estate attorney, I am painfully familiar with what it is like to walk into a client’s home to handle financial affairs at the disability or death of a client and have to wade through a sea of ‘stuff’ in order to assist the client or settle the estate. So, if in-fact you wish to make things easier on your Executor/Trustee that you have named in your estate plan, you should take proactive steps now by reducing your unnecessary ownership of tangible personal property while you are alive and can participate in the process.
You have “trouble maker” items!
Maybe you have an extensive firearm collection; or you collect valuable mandolins, or have a massive Lionel train collection, or have handmade duck decoys, or you have lots of jewelry (in some cases even antique costume jewelry); however, in any case your kids do not understand the value of these items and you are concerned that someone is going to take advantage of them when these things are eventually liquidated. If you are going to hold onto these things because you enjoy having them, be certain to leave a ledger (paper or electronic) describing the items, their respective values and where one may be able to liquidate said items fairly. If you don’t feel the need to keep all of these things until your last breath, then you will most likely be in the best position to effect the disposal of said items at the best possible price.
Consider potential deadlines for your Executor/Trustee.
Depending on the market at the time of your death, your house may sell VERY quickly. If that is the case, your Executor/Trustee may be pressed to remove all of the contents of your home in order to comply with the closing deadline. By paring down your things while you are alive, you will be assisting those you leave to settle your affairs.
What if you need to move to assisted living?
If you find yourself in a position that you need to move to an assisted living community under your own power; or if someone else has to do this for you because you are unable, an already stressful process will be made a little less stressful if you don’t have to deal with moving, liquidating or disposing of your tangible personal items. Do yourself, and your family, a favor by reducing the stress of such a move by proactively reducing your tangible personal items now.
What resources are available to help?
Start with your family. Have the conversations about your things. Find out what the kids want and don’t want and then decide if you are going to allocate those things that they want on your Tangible Personal Property Memorandum (provided by your JGB attorney in your estate planning portfolio); or if you are going to give them those things now, while you can witness them using and enjoying the items. Regarding everything else that you are ready to part with, decide if you are going to sell, donate or trash those items. There are some really good businesses out there that are looking to acquire stuff, just like yours, as inventory for their clients. I have used Williamsburg Estate Services, The Velvet Shoestring, AB Cole & Associates, Goodmans Home, and Motleys Asset Disposition Group to liquidate estates in the past. Further, you can donate items to ReStore, the Goodwill, Disabled American Veterans, and other similar charitable entities to find a home for your items. Finally, there are plenty of local businesses such as The Junk Luggers and 1-800-Got-Junk that can haul away that stuff that you can’t sell or donate.
It may not be easy for you to do; however, aside from the expense and effort that you have expended in creating your JGB estate plan, paring down your tangible personal possessions can be one of the most meaningful and loving act you can do for your family. If you wish to review your current estate plan with your JGB attorney to examine this and other ways to streamline the estate administration process for your loved-ones, do not hesitate to contact the firm to schedule a document review appointment.