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  • Writer's pictureMichelle West

Transitioning a Loved One-Estate Planning

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

There's nothing harder than watching our loved one's struggle as they age. It's starts with subtle changes at first but seems to progress faster than we expected. My mom had a few challenges at first; not being steady on her feet and struggling with headaches and brain fog. Then one day we got the call, she had been taken to the hospital, she had a massive stroke.

We found out very quickly that she would need a lot of care, rehab and long-term supervision. Thankfully, I had my sister as a support system but even with the two of us, there was a lot to do.

We wanted and needed to focus on her care. Getting her to a rehab facility, meeting with doctors to discuss long term options took a lot of time. It was all so overwhelming and not to mention dealing with the emotions we were having. The last thing we wanted to deal with was her house and personal property. Unfortunately, the rent and bills were still due whether you are living there or not, so we had to do something.

When looking at all the important decisions that would need to be made, it seemed cruel for one person to have to deal with each issue alone. So, one by one, we tackled each challenge head on.

After we established a care plan for her, we turned our attention to her home. We knew she would never be able to live on her own again and most of the "things" she had were no longer going to be useful to her. So, we set out to first organize the space. We had to go through each bag, box, cabinet, and drawer to establish what to keep and what could go. Even with two of us, it was a long, exhausting process. The worst part was trying to do all of this and deal with our emotions.

We felt a sense of loss in looking at things that made up her life knowing it had all changed in one moment. We felt guilt for getting rid of anything but knew we could not possibly keep it all. And most importantly, we struggled with what to keep. It was all very overwhelming.

Being a professional organizer, I am supposed to be "good" at this right? It's a whole different ballgame when it's dealing with someone you love. I decided then that no one should have to go through all this while trying to deal with the care of a loved one. I began incorporating estate services to my portfolio to ensure others could have the support and help we so desperately needed.

It's been just over 3 years now and I have met so many people who have the same challenges we did. With Covid, we experienced a spike in clients who lost loved ones and didn't know where to begin. I have always loved helping others however being able to help families through such a difficult time and take some stuff off their plate has been rewarding for my soul.

So, if you don't have the means to hire an experienced professional organizer with estate planning experience, here is an outline that I hope will help you during your difficult time.

Organizing Space by Space

Deciding What to Keep and What Not to Keep

It's a Process Not a Task

Organizing Space by Space:

You have to start somewhere! Pick a room to start. If you have help, fantastic, divide and conquer! Within each room, ensure that you start with a clean space to organize/prioritize. If there is stuff under the bed, dig it out.

Next, make areas within each room; things you are keeping for your loved one (clothes, furniture they can still use, essentials), things that need to be kept and stored (important papers, photos, etc.) and things that can be sold or donated. Once you have items in each space prioritized, you can start to join your piles together. Pack what needs to be stored and prepare sale/donation items.

Try to avoid jumping from space to space and starting different tasks all at once. This is often how people become quickly overwhelmed and give up. It's a painstaking process that takes a lot of discipline however if you stay focused and moving, you can do it.

Deciding What to Keep and What Not to Keep:

Often times at this stage, your loved one is most likely not going to be at a point of enjoying the items they once had. It's more about them having the necessities they need with some comforts of home. So, what do you do with all that's left?

  • If possible, find out what the wishes are of your loved one. If your loved one is unable to make those decisions, the one appointed to manage the estate should step in and work with the family to decide what is important to keep, who will keep what, and what is best to do with the rest.

  • Important papers and photos should be kept safe. Taxes, deeds, financial records, and identification documents should all be secured. Best practice is to keep all important documents until you are sure they are not needed or valid and then shred them. Accidentally disposing or donating them by mistake could expose sensitive information to the public.

  • Keepsakes and Memorabilia. This is where things can get tricky. Family members may want to keep items for a variety of reasons. It's up to the owner or guardian of the estate to make the final decision and sometimes that decision is not well received. In my case and in my opinion, if items are of value (not keepsake items) and can be sold to further assist in the financial care of your loved one (including funeral costs), you might want to consider selling. We did keep some valued items that were handed down in our family as "Keepsakes". Those items will continue to be passed down in the family. We also had items that we considered "memorabilia" that meant something to other family members but weren't necessarily of high value. For instance, I gave my uncle my mother's high school ring, she wore it her whole life and it was very important to her. (I waited until after she passed to give it to him)

  • The Rest. Furniture, dishes, home decor, these things may not hold a ton of value but can help assist in the financial care of your loved one. Consider hosting an estate sale or auction to liquidate household assets. You may even need to sell the house and other property. I highly recommend coordinating with a professional and make sure you are authorized by legal means to sell the property and personal effects of the owner before selling or removing any property.

It's a Process Not a Task

Transitioning a loved one into alternative care is one of the hardest things you will have to go through. It reminds us of just how short and precious life is. It is also going to take time and patience to get through it.

If you have the option, hire a professional to assist you. Family and friends are great, but they can often be distracting and hard to manage. You need someone to take the lead on the process so you can focus on your loved one and your own emotional well-being.

I hope you found this helpful. I'm passionate about what I do and grow attached to the families I work with. My own personal experience helped me to understand the emotional journey of the process and makes me better at assisting my clients because I know what it FEELS like.

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