We often write about decluttering in our blogs here at Everything Retirement – from our home’s closets and cupboards, desk drawers and filing cabinets, to our basements, garages and storage lockers. It seems like getting rid of stuff is a universal activity we all, or least many of us, share.

But what about the stuff that gets left behind when we pass away? Are you prepared to let family members or an executor go through your really personal things?

Wouldn’t you want to provide them with pertinent details and a sense of your final wishes, by, so to speak, ‘decluttering’ your personal, and private, affairs for them?

And finally, would you rather get rid of things you’d prefer they didn’t know about or which you don’t really wish anyone else to see?

If yes, then you need to address these kinds of items yourself or, at the very least, leave some detailed instructions about how to dispose of them once you’re gone, with a designated ‘someone’ who you trust.

What Kind of Mess Are You Leaving for Your Survivors to Figure Out?

If you died or were incapacitated, and someone went through your dresser, closets and private papers, what would they discover about you that you may prefer them not to know? What would they consider valuable, if anything? Who would they contact to share the news?

You’d be doing your loved ones a favour if you simplify the process for them ahead of time. And one of the ways is by doing a lot of the decluttering yourself, sparing your survivors the trouble. Things like outdated tax returns and years of utility bills, old clothes, jewellery, knick-knacks, treasure troves of old love letters and photos of past romances, scrapbooks from way back when and boxes of mementos…et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? You know what we’re talking about don’t you? Stuff. We all have it. We all need to sort it.

Sort Your Stuff out by Preparing Specific Lists

These various lists could include information like what you owe, who you pay and when, such as loans, rent, mortgages, utilities and so forth, (with the accompanying account numbers).

You may also want to list what’s precious and what’s expendable. How about making a list with the full names and addresses of your friends and any business associates you deal with regularly? There are any number of lists to be made, depending on your individual circumstances.

  1. One list could be a detailed, comprehensive list of what you have and what you want done with it and where to find it all – Will, POAs, banks, investments, safety deposit boxes, lawyers, secret hiding places…
  2. Another is a list of the things you have to do/take care of every month – bills you pay, memberships, subscriptions, etc., and should include due dates, how you pay, account numbers, passwords and so on.
  3. A list of family members and friends you’d wish to be notified of your demise, with addresses, phone numbers, and any other pertinent information. Specify any bequests you’d like to be made.
  4. Your social media accounts with usernames, access codes and passwords. Email accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram to name a few.

Your Personal Roadmap

Montreal based financial adviser Catherine Rahal, author of a new book titled If You Love Them, Leave Them Lists, calls it “creating your roadmap”. It talks about how helpful one could be for your survivors so that they have some idea as to how to go about closing your final chapter in life. (Available through Amazon and on her own website.)

Her late brother-in-law, who had the foresight to prepare a legacy notebook for his family prior to his own death was one of her inspirations for writing the book.

Ms. Rahal, herself widowed while in her 30s, says,

There is no better gift to yourself, those who will care for you, and those you eventually leave behind, than this roadmap.

She adds, “You might think your family knows everything about you, but that isn’t always the case.”

“And things you don’t want others to see, you’ve got to get rid of while you can,” she added.

“Stuff that mattered to you may not mean anything to somebody else,” she said. “Our kids generally don’t want our stuff. They have already furnished their nests.”

It’s Up to You to Fill in the Blanks

Readying your affairs in case of death or incapacity needn’t be perceived as a morbid exercise. Ms. Rahal offers up two basic observations in her book: “It has always surprised me how many people do not want to discuss life insurance or making a will. Writing a will does not mean you will die tomorrow. Buying insurance will not hasten your demise.”

Your Digital Footprint Lives On

Almost everyone nowadays leaves a “digital footprint”. Email and social media accounts, online memberships and clubs. You’re the only one who knows exactly what you’ve got “going on” online. We wrote about this issue a couple of years ago, where we discussed, for example, what’s left behind on your laptop. All those things will need to be erased by your survivors. If they don’t know they exist, then how will it happen?

There’s Help

Check out the Legacy Notebook online series, a comprehensive guide to creating your own “Legacy Notebook”. It’s produced by Lesley Jeffres Pearson, CPA, Masters in Business Administration. She believes in reducing the dilemma of a legacy roadmap into bite sized chunks so as not to be overwhelming. Her 31 day series covers all the issues that could possibly arise for those who survive the death of a loved one. It’s worth a read, and may inspire you to get organized.