How Death Cleaning Can Benefit Your Estate Plan

How Death Cleaning Can Benefit Your Estate Plan

The Swedish practice of death cleaning can help streamline your estate plan and simplify the probating of your estate. No, it’s not about dusting the furniture and mopping the floors after someone dies; nor is it about crime scene cleaning.  Swedish death cleaning is a practice that goes beyond Marie Kondo’s mantra of discarding things that do not bring you joy.  This practice of death cleaning is a permanent form of organization.  Now you are wondering why is this lawyer talking about death cleaning.  Keep on reading to find out. 


What Is Death Cleaning?

The Swedish practice of death cleaning is going through the things you’ve accumulated over the years and finding a new home for the things you no longer need or want – mainly so the loved ones you leave behind won’t have to deal with it after your passing.

While this may be identified with the minimalist movement, it has a practical application to your estate plan and the probating of your estate:

  • It allows you to declutter
  • Begin the process of passing on the things you ultimately will leave for others to enjoy or use
  • Identify recipients who will enjoy and treasure the items as much as you do.


On a subconscious level, we all know that one day we will cease to walk the face of the earth.  But most of us don’t like to think about it, much less talk about it.  I recognize that knowing something doesn’t make it easier to cope with. However, wouldn’t you rather have a say in what you give your children, grandchildren, close friends, and organizations that are important to you?


How Death Cleaning Relates To Estate Planning 


When I meet with prospective clients, I ask them to identify what their Estate Planning goals are and then rank those goals.  For the overwhelming majority, the number one goal is to get their affairs in order.  That means finally making the decision to get their personal and financial affairs in order and off the perpetual To Do list. 


When we do Estate Planning, we are planning for the orderly transition of our wealth and possessions from us to whomever we decide we want to give it to.  We are planning for not only the “who” but also the “what.”    When it comes to the things we own, especially those with sentimental value, like a blanket that was made by our great-grandmother, the crystal we bought on a trip to Poland, or our valuable collection of rare wines, we want to give them to someone that will want it and appreciate it. 


Think of death cleaning as a practical, pre-emptive approach to:

  • Find out if the person you think might enjoy having that crystal actually wants it.
  • Discover who might appreciate it more if your original intended recipient does not.
  • Ensure that your treasured possessions will find a new home where their value will be much appreciated.
  • Significantly reduce the number of personal items that need to be documented in your Estate Plan and later dealt with when settling your estate after your passing.


Even if you are not ready to part with something because you still enjoy it (a.k.a. use it) regularly, you can still decide now whom you want to receive it upon your death. By including a personal property memorandum in your Estate Plan, you can instruct how to distribute your personal effects to specific people of your choosing.  Proactively settling these matters is an effective way of communicating your wishes and maintaining family harmony. Hopefully, you will have determined if the person wants the item.


Benefits of Death Cleaning


Death cleaning is a way to make the Probating of your estate more orderly for those that are left behind to finalize your affairs. Keep in mind that the executor of a Will or trustee of a Trust will have to deal with what is to be done with the personal effects of the decedent.  Without instructions on how to distribute your personal belongings in your Estate Plan, or if a number of things are left out, the person you leave in charge or the law will be the one making these decisions on who will get what. This can lead to arguments and discord, especially if not everyone agrees with the decisions made.


Haven’t you ever wondered why we accumulate so much “stuff” over the years? Often times we are holding on to something because it reminds us of a person, an experience, or a place.  But even if we let go of the object, we aren’t letting go of that person, experience, or place. Rather, we are taking the time to remember and enjoy the memory while transitioning our material goods to others.


Nothing brings a family together like the death of a loved one – but one thing that can tear them apart is fighting over things.  Death cleaning is a way to significantly minimize fighting between family members.  This process of giving away your things may also help you cope with an impending death.


Don’t leave your family with the burden of having to make hard decisions or put the person you name as Executor or Trustee in the role of the bad guy in the eyes of other family members. At the end of the day, someone IS going to have to deal with it. Wouldn’t you rather it be you?


Contact the Law Office of Antoinette Bone for sound Estate Planning advice and services. From understanding your unique personal situation and relationships to creating a bespoke Estate Plan that reflects your goals and wishes, get the guidance you need on navigating this seemingly daunting process and design an Estate Plan that’s right for you. Call our office now to schedule a strategy session. 

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Nothing in this message is intended to provide legal advice.  This message is for educational purposes only.

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