If you have lost a loved one, you may find yourself dreading the day when you have to dispose of your loved one’s favorite shirt or the books on the shelf that he or she would read and re-read until the pages wore down. Possessions are tied to events, and when you come across an item that was a part of a loved one’s identity, you find yourself in a lose-lose situation: it hurts to keep it and it hurts to part with it.
Lighten the Burden
But there are ways to make the cleaning process more bearable. Sorting through a lost loved one’s belongings is never easy, but by developing a strategy, you can make it much more tolerable. Here are some tips that might provide you with some peace as you begin to face this daunting task:
1. Develop a Game Plan
Give yourself some structure. Diving in without a full understanding of the scope of the project will probably leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Make a list of what needs to be done and organize your goals. Separate the items that you need to clean into groups, and move from group to group. You might want to designate each room as a separate job, and have an individual strategy for each room.
2. Set Small Goals
After the loss of a loved one, cleaning can be physically and emotionally draining. For this reason, it’s important to pace yourself
. Completing any task, big or small, provides you with a sense of satisfaction, so break one task into five and have five moments of victory! Be sure to take plenty of breaks between tasks. Develop a reward system for yourself. Maybe you’ll decide to grab a coffee after finishing a certain closet, or take a TV break after finishing a room.
3. Sort as You Go
You’ll cut down on a lot of excess time and energy if you sort the items
into piles as you go. You may want to designate areas or boxes labeled "Keep," "Donate," "Give to a family member," and "Throw away." Label your boxes or bags and place things in the appropriate areas. Sorting items on the front end will help you decide on a clear goal for each item you come across and will make the project more manageable.
4. Set a Quantity Limit
As you look over all of your loved one’s possessions, you are probably going to be tempted to keep too much. So, in addition to setting goals for the completion of your project, set goals for your ability to let go. There is no way you can keep everything. The best way to decide what to keep is to write a short list of items ahead of time that you can't imagine parting with and set specific limitations
for each type of item you will keep.
5. Assess Each Item for Future Worth
Which items are the most meaningful? When you first begin to look at the loved one’s possessions, everything
seems important. And when you decide which items are most important, how do you know if keeping it is what the loved one would really want? The process of determining what to keep and what to part with can be extremely difficult. There are no fixed criteria to help you decide to hold on to item A and let go of item B. It’s ultimately up to you to decide
. Remember the loved one’s connection to the possession and try to decide if there is any real value in keeping the object. If not, consider donating it.
6. Invite Friends to Help
You might want to invite close friends to help out. It’s important to surround yourself with people that can provide emotional support. If you decide that this is a personal project that you’d rather complete on your own, that’s fine too, but you may want to consider planning time to be with others during breaks, or right before or after working. Falling back on a support network can be extremely helpful when facing tasks that are emotionally difficult.
7. Find Peace with the Decisions that you Make
Sorting through your loved one’s belongings can put you in an emotionally vulnerable place and can lead to self-doubt. Remember: there is nothing to feel guilty about. Letting some things go is not an act of betrayal. On the contrary, it is a gift to your loved one, a tribute
. Maintaining a healthy attitude is key. Know that what you are doing is necessary, and view it as one more way to honor the person that you love.
Cleaning out a loved one's home or possessions after a loss can be a stressful task, so go easy on yourself. Remind yourself of the importance of what you are doing, and keep a positive mindset. Don’t rush through the project, and above all, leave no room for guilt. Love yourself just as you loved the person that you lost. Know that this is a challenging project, and that your best effort is good enough.
This story is all too common. A parent dies without a legal will, and the adult children must face not only their grief, but the headache of moving the estate through probate court.
That is why creating a legal will is one of the most vital areas of estate planning. A legal will ensures that your property and possessions will be divided and distributed according to your wishes. When someone dies without a legal will, that person is said to have died "intestate," and the person's property and assets will be subject to distribution by the state of residence.
can be the cause of unpleasant arguments among family members. If your final wishes for your property aren’t signed, witnessed, and documented while you are in a clear state of mind, then your loved ones will be left with the headache of trying to interpret your wishes in a way that doesn’t cause significant conflict.
Administrator of the Estate
When someone dies intestate, a member of the family is usually appointed as the administrator of the estate. But there is no way to determine the true wishes of the one who has passed. If the deceased did not appoint an executor of the will, a probate court will often appoint this administrator.
Developing a Plan
The issue of intestacy is further complicated by the fact that states have different laws for going about the process. To avoid all the legal red tape, plan ahead by writing a will that clearly delineates your wishes and that is legally valid. Requirements for a will’s legality vary from state to state, so you may have to do some research on specific requirements in your state. However, here are some general guidelines that you can follow to write a will that is legally acceptable and that best conveys your wishes:
- Don’t wait: To ensure its legality, your will must be signed when you are of sound mind. Many people think that they can wait until they are on their deathbed to write the will, but if your state of health calls into question your mental clarity, then your will could be declared invalid. To avoid this potential setback, construct a legally valid will ahead of time.
- Select your witnesses: Your will should be written in the presence of witnesses. At least two witnesses will need to sign it, but some states will not accept less than three. Make sure that the witnesses are disinterested parties, people who are not beneficiaries and have no stake in the proceedings.
- Choose an executor: Be sure to assign an executor of the will to fulfill the duty of settling the estate. This is the person who you will trust to represent your wishes after your death. Often, a spouse or close friend is appointed as an executor. Remember, in the absence of an executor, an administrator of the estate will have to be chosen, and there is no way to guarantee that the person selected will know how to follow your wishes.
- Provide for dependents: If you are responsible for the care of minors, it is important that you outline your wishes for their continued care, and that you assign a guardian that you trust to take on this role.
- Communicate clearly: Make sure that your thoughts are well-organized. Identify your heirs and give instructions that are free of ambiguity. Read back over the material and make sure that there is an unmistakable connection between person and property, gift and recipient.
State Law Requirements
- Update: Return to your will every few years to make sure that your current wishes are represented. Things change. If a decade has passed and you haven’t looked at your will, there’s a good chance that it’s offering an inaccurate picture of your current wishes. Pull it out every few years, review it carefully, and make any necessary edits.
While these general principles will help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of will-writing, it is essential that you also educate yourself on your specific state’s laws for creating a will. An attorney can help with this, or you can take advantage of an online will creation service to make sure that your will is written within the parameters of state law.
It’s never too early to start thinking ahead. By creating a clearly worded and legally sound will, you can relieve your family of unnecessary stress and make sure that your wishes will be carried out. Ensuring that your estate and your belongings are distributed according to your preferences will bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones.