Estate planning is all about control;  control over our decisions and finances, both during life and after our death.   After control, the second most important part of an estate plan may be the memories.   Memories of the lives and experiences we have shared together.  Most people, when they design their estate plan, think primarily about the large financial assets: Real property, bank accounts, investment accounts, family businesses, etc. But an experienced estate planner will tell you that the most heart-felt gifts are about the little things that end up having little or no monetary value at all.  We call it “Stuff”.  “Stuff” can be anything found in the home including, clothing, jewelry, furniture, family photographs and anything else which loved ones hold dear. “Stuff” becomes the physical manifestation of the love we shared.

Each family is different.  Items such as the family bible, mom and dad’s wedding bands, grandma’s heirloom hope-chest. Disputes over these items can end up costing families more in harsh words, hurt feelings, and legal fees than any expensive real estate or valuable bank account. These are items which touch the heart, not just the pocketbook.  Although the family “Stuff” may have a low financial value, “Stuff” can have a high emotional value for families; a fact that many don’t consider when they’re making out their estate plans and trusts.

When my mother was dying, she decided to give away all of her important “Stuff”.   We are three girls so my mother divided up her “Good Jewelry” between the three of us.   She also gave out some sentimental items which she thought we would each like.   My gift was her jewelry box with her junk jewelry.  The junk jewelry was not to my taste.   The pieces were big and shiny and made of plastic.  My mother loved to wear bright colors and the big jewelry matched her taste, and not mine.  I told her immediately, I didn’t want the junk jewelry.   She insisted that I take it.   One did not disobey my mother, so grudgingly  I took it.  Interestingly enough, I never threw it away.

The jewelry came with me to college, law school and then finally, my own home.   I kept it safely tucked away in the bottom drawer of my dresser.  At a point, I forgot it was there.   Then one evening when I came home from work, I found my daughter Amy, then two years old, sitting on the floor in my bedroom, covered with my mother’s jewelry.   She was so excited with her new treasures.   She showed herself off to everyone who would look at her.   Finally she asked me “Where did this wonderful jewelry come from?”  I told her it was a gift to her from her grandma in heaven.  She wore the jewelry during dress up time for years.  Now, Amy keeps the jewelry in her bottom drawer, ready to be given to her children, whenever they arrive.

The time to talk with your loved ones about “Stuff” is right now.   Keep in mind that this discussion might not be an easy conversation to initiate. Just like me, most are reluctant to talk about—or even think about—your eventual passing; and many have found that they have to broach the subject more than once before their loved ones are willing to talk about it.  The issue is not the “Stuff”.   The issue is the thought of life without you.  The answer is to prepare your “Stuff List”, today.

Contact Ilene McCauley for more information about how to fill out your “Stuff List” and to answer any of your other questions and concerns.   You can reach us at 480-296-2036 or at

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