As you may be aware, our law firm recently moved our Wilmington location from one building in downtown Wilmington to another. The prospect of packing books and papers I may not have touched in years just to unpack them in a brand-new office was not exactly appealing. Although I’m not a devotee of Marie Kondo and her guides to decluttering, and while the question of whether or not particular items “sparked joy” doesn’t really seem to apply to a business office, I did find myself asking whether I actually needed or would use something before it made it into the packing crate (spoiler alert – much of it did not).
What does our office move and decluttering have to do with estate planning, you may ask? Well, estate planning does not end after you’ve left an attorney’s office with a set of executed documents. In addition to updating beneficiary designations and possibly retitling accounts into a revocable trust, part of follow through on an estate plan should be organizing the information and documentation that an agent, trustee or executor may need after you are no longer able to act for yourself – and getting rid of the rest. I’ve had clients who have had to sort through cabinet after cabinet full of prior years’ tax returns – well beyond the recommended seven years’ worth – after the death of a loved one. This just adds to the administrative and emotional burden of cleaning up a deceased’s affairs.
Additionally, thought should be given not to whether something sparks joy in you, but whether it may have the opposite effect on your loved ones. A friend recently had to prepare her childhood home for sale after her parents both moved into residential care facilities because of chronic, debilitating illnesses. This task was an unwelcome one, full of sadness, guilt and doubt. Having not always had the best relationship with her parents when she was younger, my friend found notes, diary entries and letters chronicling those difficult years, making the process even more heart-wrenching.
When taking on the task of planning your estate, or updating your existing estate plan, think about extending this planning to organizing your financial documents and ridding yourself (and, eventually, your loved ones) of the unimportant papers. There are guides online to help determine how long certain types of documents should be kept (for example, http://www.finra.org/investors/save-or-shred-how-long-you-should-keep-financial-documents ).
You may also want to consider something akin to “Swedish death cleaning” (https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Gentle-Art-of-Swedish-Death-Cleaning/Margareta-Magnusson/9781501173240), which entails paring down your possessions to avoid your loved ones fighting or stressing over what to do with them when you’re gone. Items with sentimental value do not need to be tossed; they can instead be given to friends and family now so you can experience their joy and appreciation.