Your Family Might Not Want Your Stuff Contributed by: Mindi K. Cooper, Estate Planning Coordinator
A few months ago, my family and I were visiting my 92-year-old great-grandmother. Her health had started to decline, and we wanted to spend some time with her while we still had the chance.
Mommom Jeanne was an interesting lady and loved all things fashion. She worked for Strawbridge and Clothier Department store in the shoe department and always had the trendiest new shoes. While we were visiting, Mommom insisted that I look through her closet and that I could have anything I wanted. I tried telling her that I didn’t need anything, and the time spent with her was what mattered most to me.
She went on and on about other things she had that she wanted me, my sister, and my mom to take. With Mommom working in the retail industry most of her career, she had accumulated a lot of stuff! Despite our profession, we all do that – we accumulate so much stuff over the course of our lives. Mommom’s tried and true sparkly blazer isn’t quite my style, but she thinks I’d look amazing in it. And those loafers from 1989 were probably the hottest shoe back then but not something I’d like to have in my closet today.
In our work, we see so many younger generations who are faced with their loved ones’ tangible stuff and who are so often uninterested in keeping it. Although they appreciate the love in the gesture of passing it down to them, they rarely find the same value in the items that the original owner felt. Their disinterest in the items reflects different opinions of hobbies, different lifestyles, differing amounts of storage space at home, or a discomfort with what it takes to maintain the item. We’ve experienced our clients not wanting to receive “stuff” from the likes of baseball card collections and fine chinaware to lawnmowers.
It’s important to have a conversation about the things you would like to leave to your loved ones while you’re still able. An experienced elder law and estate planning attorney could help you incorporate a Personal Property Memorandum into your planning. This estate planning tool is used to list tangible personal property like furniture, jewelry, décor, clothing, etc. and assign the specific person or people you want to receive it. This document can be edited over time without the need for signing formalities like witnessing and notarization.
We encourage our clients to work on the memorandum with family members. The activity serves the purpose of documenting the owner’s wish for what happens to the item and might capture feedback about a recipient not being interested in keeping the item. Some families find both perspectives helpful. More importantly, it gives the older adult an opportunity to share history on the items, which can so often mean more to the loved ones than the physical item itself.
Mommom Jeanne did this with us. She shared stories about specific pieces, and even though I didn’t want the sparkly black blazer, I enjoyed hearing about her wearing it and loving it. She was always the best at telling stories and would remember every possible detail. Mommom Jeanne passed away just a few weeks after our last visit. I’ll always remember her sass, spunk, and very stylish shoes.
Have the conversation. It’ll make for good memories while you’re rummaging through old things.