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So My Children Will Not Have To...

Dear Jo the Clutterbuster:

I just finished helping my parent’s downsize and move to assisted living. It was a horrendous experience and I am still dealing with the fallout – lost items, missing photos, and very confused parents.

While sorting through a box of papers, I found your card. (I wish I had found it sooner.) I don’t want MY children to be faced with sorting, distributing and discarding my lifetime accumulations. Please help me help them.


Done In

Dear Done:

We are all aware of the need to complete a health directive, to identify a power of attorney, and to prepare a will. However, these legal documents do not provide guidance to family members for the meaningful distribution of your personal history, values and beliefs, or possessions. If you wish to share the “contents” of your legacies, follow these basic instructions. Be sure to speak with your attorney before starting this process.

History Legacy

  • Personal anecdotes

There is a saying in the world of oral history collection: “You should have been here yesterday” …whenever the person with the untold story has just passed on. Personal anecdotes – about yourself or members of your family – are the tales told at holidays and family gatherings. Maintaining an oral history is as simple as talking into a recorder or computer and then duplicating the information for distribution. At the next family gathering or during a visit, ask everyone to bring a question about the family history. You can share or record the answer. Be sure to share a favorite personal anecdote.

  • Photographs

Frequently old photographs are discarded because no one knows the names and relationships of those in the picture. Gather all the photos that you believe are important to your History Legacy. Place a label on the back of each picture with names, relationships, dates, or event. (Do not write directly on the photo.) In this age of digital media, you can then have the entire collection digitized, duplicated and distributed so everyone can have a complete set.

  • Memorabilia

You may have a box or file folders of yellowing articles about yourself or other family members or of important events. Maybe you saved small objects or trinkets. To prevent the loss of the information, articles can be scanned into a computer. Because photocopy paper lasts longer than newsprint, you may just choose to copy each article. Important documents or small articles can be wrapped in acid free paper and stored in archival containers.

There are on-demand publishing companies that print individual copies of books in any quantity. You can combine the transcription of your family history and personal anecdotes with photographs and create a Legacy book.


Values Legacy

Values are passed on through our actions and interactions. We donate to causes that speak to our hearts. Sometimes we provide monetary gifts, sometimes time, and sometimes possessions.

If there are special groups you wish to support, create a list of those organizations (local, national, international) and the type of gift you wish them to receive. You may wish to donate linen and towels to an animal shelter. You may want clothing to be donated to shelters that serve the homeless. Organizations that support immigrants can always use working household appliances and furniture. Include a contact name and telephone number of the organization or agency.

Monetary donations are usually specified in your will.

Possessions Legacy

When downsizing or moving, ask your family and friends which possessions “speak to their heart.” Holiday family gatherings are another opportunity to have this discussion.

Before you offer, ask yourself:

  • It is important to keep in the family?

  • Does it have special meaning to you?

  • Has someone requested it?

  • Does it have historical value?

  • Does it have monetary value?

Objects that have special meaning to you may NOT have meaning to others. It’s best to communicate with the designated recipient as to whether they truly want the ‘gift.’ Record all decisions.

Frequently, a “heart’s desire” may be shared by another family member. I once facilitated a sibling meeting before the sale of the family home. Everyone drew a number from a hat and proceeded to claim an item in turn. “Horse trading” was allowed. Ties were dealt with in several ways. For example, to keep the peace with regards to one particular painting, we established a 3-month rotation schedule.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide your family and friends is to share yourself. Use these guidelines to share your History, Values and Possessions Legacies. You will insure that your children won’t have to worry about what to do – they will know.