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What Do We Do with All the Stuff?

estate planning legal education Nov 14, 2017

Have you read Marie Kondo's book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up? I have, and it really was life-changing. Following her approach, you hold everything you own and ask yourself whether it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, you thank it for its service and get rid of it. 

My mother, and many of the older generation, struggle with this approach. The current generation values minimalism and portability over sentimentality and tradition, and it shows in how we deal with our "stuff." While Ms. Kondo's approach is very popular with the rising generation, the aging population, while often downsizing and acknowledging the need to cull some of their possessions, nevertheless laments the potential loss of many of those things they have cherished and preserved their whole lives for their children and other heirs.

What are we to do with the china sets, furniture, heirlooms, and other belongings that have been treasured by our parents? As the baby boomer generation ages, downsizes, and eventually passes on, more and more adult children will be tasked with going through their loved ones' homes and storage units to decide what to do with everything.

Traditionally, these items have been passed down to the next generation. But today, the next  generation has different needs, tastes, and wants. As a result, there is a surplus of “stuff” baby boomers don’t need or have room for, and their adult children don’t want. Maybe that includes you.

The thought of tossing a lifetime of belongings in the trash is more than many can bear, which explains the advent of the senior move management industry. Today, there are a plethora of professionals who, for a fee, can help go through each item to decide what should be kept, what should be given away, and what should go to charity or be donated. And while the cost of this professional service can be up to $5,000 for a large estate, it eases the burden on the adult children and ensures the loved one’s wishes are listened to and honored.

Bear in mind, as the baby boomer generation ages, charities and nonprofits that typically accept used furniture and other belongings will be faced with the burden of too much stuff. The dated styles baby boomers preferred during their prime don’t fit the tastes and needs of today’s generation. The current generation views belongings like furniture and dishes as functional and more disposable, better suited to their urban, fast-paced lives.

So how do we solve this problem? In my experience, knowledge and communication go a long way to resolving all sorts of legal problems. And this is a legal problem as much as it is anything else.

Here's an idea: Be very clear about what you consider to be heirlooms and valuable items by indicating in your will, or in a separate writing ancillary to your will, exactly what’s important to you and what isn’t. Talk to your children or other heirs to see what they want and don’t want. Also, make sure they know what’s important to you and what isn’t. The more you can communicate about this now with your loved ones, the better.

Everyone thinks that, when someone dies, the family fights are always over money. Many times, it's not the money, but the personal property of Mom and Dad that the kids fight over. And that can be so easily avoided with clear instructions and planning.

As more baby boomers age and nonprofits turn away dated donations,  the need for thoughtful estate planning is greater than ever. A comprehensive estate plan can ensure your belongings either go to those who will cherish them or to charities that will benefit from them.

So, as with so many things in law and in life, what are the keys here? Knowledge. Communication. Planning.


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