“Swedish Death Cleaning” For Your Estate Plan

How the Swedish concept of "Dostadning" can help you get your affairs in order

Photo credit: Tom Skarbek, Unsplash.com

Cory Wessman is an estate planning attorney with the law firm, Erickson & Wessman. His office is in the Broadway Place West building in NE Minneapolis where I work.

He sent the following letter to his clients and I thought it would make a great guest post.

You can find out more about Cory and his services at his website, www.cericksonlaw.com.

Below, he offers great advice for “spring cleaning” your estate plan. If you need help creating and updating your “Master List of Accounts”, let me know. We have this information for all our financial planning clients and are happy to provide it to you in a secure way.

From the offices of Cory Wessman…

In anticipation of the warmer weather that we hope is right around the corner, our family has been engaged in a bit of spring cleaning. Like many families we know, we have come to appreciate a home filled with more space and less stuff.

In a new book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” Margareta Magnuson describes a Swedish tradition known as dostadning (“death cleaning”). Swedish death cleaning is not about cleaning up after your death; rather, it is about your efforts, in your own lifetime, to rid yourself of unnecessary clutter to minimize the work imposed upon others following your own death.

At its essence, a good estate plan means taking steps during your lifetime to minimize the burden upon others following your death. To conduct a periodic dostadning reduces the hassles faced by the key individuals (“fiduciaries”) named by you.

With regard to your own dostadnig, I recommend the following steps:

Consolidate Accounts. There are often good reasons to create separate savings accounts or checking accounts for specific purposes, such as a college savings account or a family cabin expense account. However, once the need for at one for a particular purpose has expired, so should the separate account.

Purge Yourself of Paper. If you keep every statement for every account you have every owned, your fiduciary will spend unnecessary time wading through paper. If you have had some unusual tax matters, you might keep past tax records for up to 7 years; otherwise, in most situations, it is sufficient to keep tax records for just three years prior.

Tangible Personal Property. If you can’t decide who should receive an item following your death, why would your fiduciary know? At some point, develop a plan for your stuff. If you want a friend or family member to have a sentimental item, and you could go without out, why keep it? To the extent that you want to hold certain items for life, be sure to create a tangible personal property list to direct the distribution of those items at your death. You might also identify items that have sentimental value, and provide your family with a history for why such items hold sentimental value.

Create and Update a Master List of Accounts. Create a one-page summary for your fiduciary that includes the type of account, the institution, and any contact information relevant to the account, such as an advisor associated with the account. To the extent that you have closed credit card or bank accounts, leave no trace behind. Make clear where you are keeping family birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates or divorce decrees, vehicle titles, real estate deeds, and death certificates.

Do It Now. According to Magnuson, beginning dostadning should start as soon as possible. If you believe that your personal legacy is based upon relationships and not assets, a dostadning can be a useful reminder of our own mortality and as a means to cleanse the soul as well as the house.

As always, please contact us if we can be of any assistance on any estate planning or trust or estate administration matters.