The Life-Changing Magic of Planning Your Estate

Marie Kondo, an organizing consultant, has taken the world by storm with her two-step approach to tidying up in her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. First, she encourages people to one-by-one hold in their hands everything they own. Once in their hands, people should ask themselves if the item sparks joy. If it doesn’t, Kondo’s approach thanks the item for its service and then puts it in a trash pile. Second, once people identify which of their possessions gives them joy, they should place it in a visible and accessible place. Only then, will adherents to this method, experience the magic of tidying up once and for all.

We thought about this concept and how it can be used to help plan an estate. Planning an estate is a hard and uncomfortable process. It asks you to contemplate your mortality. At the end of the process you have not thrown anything out, but simply begun a process to transfer one of your possessions to someone else. While your family and friends may have a joyful reaction to receiving your beloved cabin home in Maine, that joy will be sparked by your own death. What follows are lessons we learned when we applied Kondo’s tidying up approach to estate planning.

Step One: A proper estate plan will determine what will happen to your property and how your assets will be distributed in the event of your death. It will also consider how decisions will be made regarding your medical care and treatment and finances in the event of mental or physical incapacitation. With the former, you will need to clearly articulate your wishes about your medical care. With the later, one by one, you will need to consider your property and assets and determine what will happen to it when you die. Gifts can be made to family members, friends, charitable organizations, and other testamentary instruments, like a trust.

Step Two: At the end of the process you will have a comprehensive set of directives or estate planning documents that will guide those around you when you die or become incapacitated. They are a last will and testament, a living will, a financial power of attorney, a living trust, and beneficiary designations, for life insurance policies or retirement plans or pensions.

Following these two steps will enable you to declutter and organize your estate and bring joy to your loved ones with clear instructions on how your property will be distributed when you die and how you wish decisions about your medical care and finances and property be made in the event of incapacity.

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