by David MacMahan
Few things are more overwhelming, or more emotionally challenging for heirs than the “stuff” left behind; especially in overstuffed garages and storage units.
Today, nearly all of us have been trapped in our homes by Covid for nearly a year, with at least several months ahead of us looking similar. Do you have clients over sixty, have a will or trust set up, and feeling OK about how they will be leaving their family to deal with the estate? Awesome! Now do they have a garage, attic or self-storage unit, with things not seen or thought about in months or years? These represent an amazing gifting opportunity, and useful task during COVID.
Can you imagine how overwhelming the duties will be for their beloved executor trying to let heirs know what personal property is available to divide, sell or donate? They can’t all meet at the house like in earlier times. The tangible assets, aka personal property, furniture, art, jewelry, sentimental items are usually the most difficult and contentious part of an estate to divide. The practical challenges alone of letting all heirs know what is there, getting it listed, sometimes valued are huge. Then how does one go about dividing peacefully? Worst of all, they have typically never done it before, so it is all completely overwhelming.
While we have more available time than we would like, why not encourage a gift that will have heirs beaming with appreciation? That gift is a decluttered, photographed inventory of all things they will need to divide, sell or donate when you downsize to an assisted living apartment, or die. It will be so much easier for people to do now, knowing the things as they do, than for heirs to have to discover and deal with them, all in the midst of also losing a parent.
We all have great cameras built into our phones now, and taking photos is so easy. Suggest that they take a day, go to the self-storage building or overstuffed garage, and pull everything out (remember heirs are going to have to do this if they don’t). You may suggest:
- Take a few big boxes, paper, pen and tape; organize as keep, gift, sell, donate or trash
- Pull everything out so you can see it and deal with it
- If you can’t imagine a loved one excited to have it, and you haven’t thought about it for a year; deal with it now
- When repacking, imagine the storage in sections, back, middle back, forward middle and front, noting the photos where you are repacking, back to front. Ex. Photos 1-28 back, 29-57 middle…
- If there are boxed items, open, unbox, taking a photo of the box contents, then re-box and label the box label and number it as the last photo of the box
- Now you have a full photo inventory! Arrange pick up or haul away donations and trash
- Once home, you can upload the photo inventory into www.FairSplit.com for free or use other inventory apps.
- Once in FairSplit.com one can type directly on the photo, the item name, any story behind it, etc. that can be shared with family online, reports printed, etc.
Everyone has, or knows a story about a family ending up in total conflict over “stuff”, be it sentimental, or just not having equal access to choose it, or a fair way to divide things. There is no reason to saddle heirs (particularly the poor soul named as executor) with dealing with all of this, when it is now so easy to do or have done. It is a COVID friendly activity, and most of us have more time than ever.
If you work with families that aren’t one for doing things like this themselves, there is an entire industry of people who do this professionally, and variations in between. If you can get the photos taken, list, categorize and pair the items with the photos professionally for typically less than $1 per item. There are also local companies who will come do all of the tasks. Many belong to organizations like NASSMM www.nasmm.org (National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers) They will come do all of the tasks above for storage or garage places, but can also catalog and declutter your entire home. Because they do this every day, they can do it fast and affordably.
While stuck at home, and having binge watched all of the Top 10 Netflix series, consider getting the tangible assets of your estate organized for your heirs. It may very well be the gift families will appreciate the most when they are gone.
David MacMahan is founder of FairSplit.com, “Divide Things, Not Families”. He spent five years researching dividing personal property and tangible assets between heirs, as the FairSplit software platform was built and has now helped thousands of families divide their estates with the web-based system to catalog, share and divide personal property online. FairSplit does this efficiently and fairly through a system of blind, online rounds; Interested or not? Who Wants it Most? Bidding emotional points, and finally ranking top to bottom choices, alternating selection rounds similar to a sports draft. Find out more at www.FairSplit.com or email David directly at [email protected].