Retirement, I’m finding, is a time of reflection. Sometimes I wonder if, as a pastor, I’ve done enough teaching about estate and “stuff” management. When brothers aren’t talking because of a rift over their mother’s sewing machine, claimed by the one and wanted by the other, I grieve. When a family cannot sit together at the funeral because the fighting over possessions has already begun, I ask my wife, Shirley, “Are our affairs in order?” Regularly reading obituaries drives home our own mortality. This person was five years younger than us! What “stuff” could cause our own families to fight?
I knew I had something on this topic stashed away somewhere. From a funeral preparation source, I dug up some solid advice.
A letter of instructions is typically attached to the will or trust. The letter names those you designate to receive items of personal property. Personal items are truly important to people. By expressing in writing who gets which item of sentimental value, you are protecting your children’s relationships. The reality is that adult children are more likely to fight over Grandma’s quilt than over cash. When writing a letter of instructions, concentrate on things that couldn’t be replaced in a fire. Ask your children if there’s anything in particular they‘d want to receive when you’re gone. You might be surprised by their answers. If more than one person wants the same thing, you have the opportunity to resolve this before it becomes an issue when you’re gone.
Applying the concept of sentimental value occasions considerable reflection. The gavel given at the synod I served as officer—does it mean anything to anyone? The Shalom signs given by parishioners because I always concluded the benediction with “shalom”—are they of sentimental value? Our grandfather clocks have been claimed, but what about the mantel clock given to my parents by her parents, as was tradition? What about Shirley’s sewing machine? Would my granddaughters really fight over her jewelry? Should we just sell anything gold and buy gravesites? And I don’t even want to think about the Bible recording family births and deaths. Or my sermons. . . .
The reality of our being gone may be made moot by our Lord’s return. I wonder what place our “stuff” will have in the new creation. In the meantime, it is our responsibility to handle it wisely. So I’ll continue listing our stuff, email the lists to our children, and get their input. It could even be fun!