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Give the Gift of Nothing, Estate Planning for Your Home Contents

Updated: Mar 7

Leave nothing for your kids to worry about
Estate Planning for your home contents

Anyone who has lived a full life has picked up a thing or two or two hundred. Their homes are filled with treasures that they love. In their basements and attics they are already storing their parent's "treasures" in the original boxes they packed them in when they cleaned out mom and dad's house. What were once tiny closets are now somehow capable of holding more things than can fit into a cold storage warehouse. Does this sound like your house?

I'm in the business of helping clients who have to get rid of generations of "treasures" that has suddenly become their responsibility. It is overwhelming and exhausting for them. These homes are filled with anything and everything including scores of empty Christmas boxes with faded yellow tissue inside; what seems like hundreds of little porcelain statues all with broken limbs and missing heads; cracked garden pots; pre-internet "how to books"; chipped china and glassware, plastic glassware and tableware; manuals to machines that are no longer on the market; silver plate so tarnished it should be classified as black plate; enough vases for a flower show at Madison Square Garden; umbrellas - most that don't open... and this is just the hallway closet. We haven't even gotten past the foyer, yet.

We are buried in our things and when it is time for us to be buried without our things our heirs will have to deal with it. Do they save it? (Where?) Do the kids want it? (No) Do we sell it? (Sometimes) Do we donate it? (Newsflash: Even the donation places don't want it.) Should we get a dumpster? (Probably)

This is not the most pleasant of legacies to leave to your relatives. They are already dealing with your demise. They have to put your house on the market but can't until they clear out this "stuff" according to the real estate broker who looks at all the "treasures" in horror.

In my every day business of owning an antique shop, I have clients who will bring me their beautiful antiques. We sell them and everyone is happy. However, when these clients become executors, they call me to come to them. We offer online auctions of entire contents of homes, but we are selective. This is where the delicate dance begins and we have to gently explain that certain items will never sell in an auction and if you call the donation folks, they will tell you they don't want it either. It is not easy adding to the stress these lovely people are already dealing with.

It is even worse when I am told, after a walk through of a 4,000 square foot house filled "stuff" that they are closing in three weeks and need everything out by then. Thankfully that doesn't happen often but when it does, the family is ready to get rid of everything in one fell swoop.


How do you keep this from happening to your kids? The answer is prevention. Look around you. Do you think your family would want the things you thought were cool and fun? Ask them! Have your family members select NOW what they want. Give them a color coded sticker. Yellow for Mary, blue for Steve and so on. When they have selected what they want tell them that everything else is going so take another look or forever hold your peace.

The second step: Go to the hardware store and buy the gigantic black contractor bags. Buy the big box. In fact, buy three of them. Start closet by closet. Be ruthless. Fill those garbage bags. Consolidate everything. If you haven't looked at something in 5 years you don't need it. After the closets graduate to the chests of drawers you haven't opened since you got your first cell phone. Look hard -- you don't need what you are looking at. Your kids won't care about the article you saved about the best time to book a cruise. Toss it. See the pens? How many work? Go ahead -- try them. Okay, now throw them out. Keep going with one caveat: be careful with scarves and belts, take them out and look at them. Who made them? They may be valuable. Find out before you do anything.

Once you have emptied the closets and case pieces, you are ready for the garage, basement and attic. Take your time but don't lose focus. What are you left with? Only the things you need, use and enjoy now. The furniture has been designated to each child and grandchild with a color coded sticker. There is no need to worry about that any longer. What a clean and simple way to live your life today. You will actually feel lighter. If you have any energy left, you may want to put the names of who the people are in all the photos you saved so the kids know who they are.

Now, should something happen to you, your heirs will know who gets what furniture. The items left can be sold, tossed or donated. When they open the closets they only need one box to empty them. You have given them the ultimate gift of nothing. You have eliminated an enormous amount of stress on your kids so they can focus on their lives living without you.

It may sound hard to do, but once you get going it is like a drug. You can't wait to fill the garbage bags. Lightening your load is a kind of high. You will wonder why you never did this sooner.

You may want to consider getting the remaining household items appraised so the kids will know where they stand with each other. If the painting Sue put her pink sticker on is worth $30,000 the siblings may have to have a discussion about how she buys it out from them.

Smart people have estate planning set up -- estate emptying is just as important.

We are here to help. We really have seen it all. We've seen piles of, for lack of a better word, junk that the heirs think is worth thousands to sterling silver museum pieces being thrown into a dumpster by the guys hired to empty out the house. (We rescued them.) If you don't know what something is worth, ask before tossing. If it is worth a lot, then the fun begins.

Nothing really is a beautiful thing.


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