I had lunch with a good friend of mine the other day.     Over our long lunch we talked about the recent death of her Mom.   Because she had started off with a diagnosis of Alzheimers, last year, we had already discussed “the planning” and “what to do” prior to her passing.    My friend and her sister did a stellar job managing the finances and her Mom signed off on a quitclaim deed to ensure her daughters could manage the property wisely.    On top of the Alzheimers, their mother was suddenly diagnosed with a terminal stage of breast cancer.      She past away 3 months later.        During our conversation, she talked about how fortunate they were to have planned so much in advance, but there were still so many “items left on the list” that it was a considerable strain for her and her sister.        One of the items left to do was to sort out all of her Mom’s belongings and give away what they didn’t want.


During my friend’s last visit for the memorial service, she and her sister had a couple of “visitors” to the condo.    One was a neighbor who dropped by to tell them that she really needed a vacuum cleaner and a microwave.    The other one was a friend of her Mom’s who promptly went into the kitchen and started opening cupboards saying how she always liked those green dishes and she wanted them (for a price of course).    Talk about the audacity of people swooping in on the goods without a care about what the two daughters were going through.     I was dumbfounded by the craziness.

That brought us to the discussion and difficult question she had,  “What do I do with all of my Mom’s personal things so that I can honor her memory?”   My recommendations were as follows:

Best Case Scenario – designate who gets what before you pass away
The person who owns the things should create a list of special bequests within the will or go ahead and arrange to give away the items while the person is still alive.     This is getting to be more common, if and only if, the people allow themselves the option and clarity of planning in advance.

After The Fact – set up guidelines for distributing the property
When trying to objectively dispose of personal property, lay out some guidelines of priorities to keep yourself from feeling pressured.
For example:

  1. Children and direct family get the things that mean something to them and is agreed upon by all family members.
  2. Then close friends of the deceased along with distant relatives may be queried for things that they would like to have.
  3. For valuable items left over, you may want to think about bequests to museums and art galleries so that many can enjoy the items.    Or, think about locating a consignment shop for selling the item directly.
  4. Finally, charity, neighbors and garage sales for all the things left over after meeting the guidelines above.

On a final note:    My friend was still wrestling with honoring her mother through her things.      The first year after a death is a significant emotional transition.     If you feel you have the luxury of time, hold on to the things until you feel you can let them go without regret.     It is natural to see your loved one “in their things” and time will speak to you and soothe you into doing what is right.    After all, things are just things, and memories and the love you have for your family will last forever.    Think about it…….