Many people have heard of the recent phenomenon of “döstädning” — Swedish death cleaning. The idea is that a person should sort through and pare down their possessions in anticipation of death so that family will not have to do it.
Death cleaning took off worldwide with the release of Margareta Magnusson’s book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.” Rachel Connor wrote in The Conversation that while Magnusson’s idea of death cleaning focuses on sorting our physical objects, the practice should extend to our digital “possessions” like passwords, digitized pictures and music, email and social media accounts.
Organizing our digital footprint so that our survivors can access pictures, music and digital memories is a gift to them. On the other side of the coin, it may be a gift to us to leave instructions and access to digital records we would like erased or sealed from view.
To take Connor’s thinking a step further, there is another aspect of inventorying our lives to simplify things for our survivors that fits in the category of death cleaning. Death cleaning can be an important part of estate planning when someone leaves clear records of what he or she owns and owes.
When a Coloradan dies, the family and the personal representative of his or her estate (which often overlap) will be faced with assessing all of the decedent’s personal property, real estate, monetary assets, investments and debts. If a decedent left clear documentation of what he or she owned along with legal documents of ownership (like deeds and certificates of title) and means of access (keys to buildings, storage lockers and safe deposit boxes, account numbers and passwords), it will save survivors and the estate time, money and headache.
It is also helpful to make a record of assets unlikely to pass through probate such as jointly owned real estate and accounts, life insurance, retirement accounts with beneficiaries and others.
Similarly, leaving a list of debts and liabilities is important, including account numbers, contracts, mortgages and other agreements that create liability. Of course, the personal representative of the estate along with legal counsel will determine the validity of debts and which debts the law requires payment of out of estate assets.
Whether a person dies with a will that goes through the probate process to gather assets, pay debts and distribute property to beneficiaries or through the intestate process of probate in accord with state law when someone dies with no will, having done the estate-planning version of döstädning will likely lower probate costs and increase the chances of the personal representative distributing all property and paying appropriate debts.