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Beyond financial estate planning, what about all that stuff?

When most people think of estate planning, financial issues often come to mind: life insurance policies, trusts and powers of attorney. But once you've made decisions about these less tangible matters, what do you do with the rest?

Looming tasks may include selling a home and sifting through belongings to decide what to do with everything, and how to do it right and in a timely manner. These decisions may not be easy. In fact, they can be much more difficult because personal possessions carry much more emotional weight. And those that don't -- rooms full of a departed loved one's common household items -- can feel like an insurmountable burden.

Anything that can be decided before the endpoint prevents stress and worry at a time when you're coping with grief. One way to accomplish this is by establishing a trust that indicates what belongings should be given to relatives or friends when the owner is deceased. This is called a revocable living trust. It can be changed if your situation or desires do.

You can also have a will drawn up that specifically indicates what should happen to your belongings, and you can list every item. You should know that a living trust doesn't go through probate, but a will does. Realize, though, that you have the option of having both, if that suits your needs.

You may want to put everything in writing and then have a family discussion to make your wishes known and confirm that all are in agreement and know what will be expected.

If a home is to be sold, you may want to consult a professional in advance to get recommendations and make decisions. For help in planning for disbursement of belongings, there are professionals who can handle estate liquidation. You may want to consider using appraisers (to get a certificate of appraisal listing the value of every item), auction houses, and/or companies that do all the hands-on work: sorting, packing, transporting, distributing and discarding. Another decision to be made is what to do with the proceeds from any sales. There are liquidation experts who can take care of every aspect of your task, including demolition and pre-demolition household sales.

Once you have established your estate plan, you may want to have an attorney review it to make you aware of any possible consequences.

When people die without arrangements having been made, the family has additional suffering as they cope with their grief. You may want to approach the subject with your elderly parents or loved ones. Or, if you're planning for yourself, tell your children what your own preferences are while you have time.

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