Here are 10 ways that you can be proactive and and take action now to help de-clutter your parents' home. Do this now for their sake, and for your own sake. I can tell you from personal experience: you do not want to have to do this in "crisis mode."
1. Have the important conversations with your parents. Approach them with love and ask them about their wishes. Try to gain an understanding of their financial situation. Be sure to know where all the important legal documents are kept. Are the will and other legal documents prepared and up-to-date? Discuss their desires for remaining in the home, moving in with family, home care, assisted living.
2. Start to de-clutter your parents' home. Since they won't likely appreciate this, suggest that you are helping them avoid both a fire and a tripping hazard. Start by removing expired food, unused things, piles of newspapers, etc. Go through linens and kitchenware that are no longer used.
3. Discuss and document allocation of personal property and heirlooms. Create a wish list and ask an appraiser to assess the values. Suggest "gifting" of special items while your parents are still alive. This will also minimize fighting between heirs when your parents are no longer around. Create a master list of each heir and the heirlooms that each desires.
4. Every time you leave their house, take a few bags of donation items with you. Dress the less fortunate. Tell your parents you are helping them to "thin out" the house.
5. If your parents have already moved out or passed away, begin the process of clearing out the house by using three piles to sort belongings: donate, sell, keep. Start with the attic, then the second floor, then the first floor.
6. When in doubt, always have a personal property appraiser evaluate antiques, collectibles, and anything you are not sure about. Every day in the estate liquidation business, I see boomers discard parents' possessions that have significant value. You should see what I have pulled out of dumpsters!
7. Continue to keep in touch with siblings and keep everyone on the same page. This is the only way that whole family will maintain close and healthy relationships through this process.
8. Make sure you have access to passwords and keys for everything.
9. Build local trusted resources. Know who you can call in the time of your parents' need. Your list should include their trusted accountant, attorney, physicians, pharmacy, as well as geriatric services in their community. Do you know who is your parents' executor?
10. Always come from a place of love. In the end, life is about MUCH more than the stuff. It's about the wonderful, deep, and abiding relationships within our families.
Copyright, Julie Hall, 2010