My Facebook friend Shirley Johnson wrote this in a group and I asked permission to share it here:
“I’ve just finished helping my sister with the clearing out of a home to settle an estate, and there were some very valuable lessons there. For a genealogist like myself it was a nightmare – and it took a tremendous amount of unnecessary time. I hope this information helps you think ahead.
Store your important documents together, preferably in a strongbox or a fireproof safe.
Please don’t pop them into a convenient drawer, together in a random envelope or in with greeting cards and other mementos! This, for future generations, could include birth, marriage, baptism and other certificates, etc. from prior generations. It would be good to put the older generations together!
Don’t put your cash in various places throughout the house.
If you are inclined to keep larger amounts cash on hand put it in an envelope in the strong box or safe.
Separate your ‘good’ jewellery from the collection of costume pieces.
Everyone isn’t good at telling one from the other and good items can easily be accidentally disposed of.
If you have family heirlooms keep a record of what these are.
Personally, I am photographing the items and marking on the photos the details of who they belonged to. My dad had pieces of paper in special dishes stating this. It helped tremendously.
If you want things divided in your household state it in your will.
For example, with the home we cleaned out it was clearly stated that the family possessions (heirlooms, photos, papers, etc.) were to go to one specific person, the clothing to a specified organization and the household items to another organization. Clear and legal! (NB from Jane – if you don’t want to put it in your will, and you trust your executor (which you should!) then you can put it in your Before I Go Workbook, see below).
Put photos from travels and excursions in albums separate from family photos.
Remaining family members probably aren’t interested in your photos of the Grand Canyon, for example, but they will want to see family photos.
If you don’t want others to read your journals and diaries, then you need to destroy them.
If you want them kept for future reference please keep them together, clearly marked.”
Now, for those who haven’t thought of the above – we spent days going through every single piece of paper making sure there were no documents mixed in; there were, as well as money. Photo albums – don’t even mention them…mostly scenery but once in a while a great family photo! Going through what appeared to be a box of old useless greeting cards, I found a pay book from the father’s time in the military! A treasure for a genealogist! You get the picture I’m trying to paint?”
Moral of the story – be organised now, so your relatives and friends do not have to do what Shirley had to do! We do not realise until we are responsible and having to go through someone’s house like this, just exactly what has to happen. So make it easier on those left behind, get your act together, and start on this essential element of a good end of life plan (death cleaning), no matter what age you are!
You can begin that process right now, by taking a look at the Before I Go Workbook, created by me after my husband died and I had to take care of all his things. This book keeps everything in one place and if you answer all the questions in it, then you’ll have even more than Shirley is writing about here – you will have a full and comprehensive end of life plan!