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Why downsizing is an important part of estate planning

As we progress through adulthood, our lives tend to get bigger -- more kids, then grandkids, a larger house and more possessions. Then we reach a point where we no longer need that big house and all that stuff. The kids are grown, maybe our spouse is gone (through divorce or death). That's when downsizing becomes an attractive option.

Many people reach this "downsizing" phase of their life about the same time they're doing their estate planning. Your downsizing can actually be an important component of your estate planning. By getting rid of things you no longer need or want, you're saving your loved ones from having to do it after you're gone. Moreover, this is a chance to give things away while you're still around to know they're appreciated.

The idea of downsizing can be overwhelming. That's why it's best to take it one step at a time. Even if you're not moving to a smaller home right away, you can start decluttering your current one. Often people will start with one room. Sometimes, they start even smaller -- with their bookshelves, for example. Maybe you've got books you'd like to share with your grandchildren. You may choose to give them to a local charity thrift shop or a public library.

Clothes are another thing that we tend to accumulate over the years. Giving away clothing you haven't worn in years can free up a lot of closet and drawer space.

If you've got jewelry, collectibles or other items of sentimental value to loved ones that you don't look at or wear any longer, why not give them to family members who've expressed an interest in them or whom you'd like to have them?

One of the keys to downsizing is not to refill the empty space with new things. That can be more difficult to do if you're not moving to a smaller home right away, but downsizing requires being vigilant.

If you're giving away items that are valuable, it may be best to let at least the executor of your estate know. This way, your family won't be looking frantically for valuables after you're gone that you gave to charity. Your estate planning attorney can provide other valuable guidance as you make decisions about what to leave to loved ones and other beneficiaries both while you're alive and after you're gone.

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