The treasure hunt

image of a treasure map

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The house full of stuff…

The reality of death is that we don’t just leave behind loved ones – we leave behind lots of stuff. Some may think that is a pretty insensitive way to look at a life that has just been lost. In the immediate aftermath of death, this type of practical thinking may seem a bit cold. This is not to suggest that belongings should be gotten rid of as soon as someone has left the earth. Yet some people do not have that luxury of time  especially if the property has to be quickly returned to a landlord and the person resolving the estate is time-pressed.

Whether it is two days, two months or two years after a death when you have to start to face the practical tasks needed, the harsh reality is – belongings still need to be processed.

Look around you now. In your room, house, garden, and garage – what do you see? I am guessing you can see lots and lots of belongings. Some will be treasured possessions such as a valuable musical instrument or souvenirs from special moments in your life. Other items will be practical and necessary household belongings such as furniture, white goods and kitchen ware.

Practical belongings

If you live with your family and you were to pass away, chances are the practical items will remain in the home – and remain vital tools for everyday living. Yet if you lived alone and had a house full of belongings, at some stage someone will need to deal with all of these items.

By this time, the funeral will most likely have taken place and your Executor or next of kin will likely be back in the throes of their own hectic life. Possibly back at work, caring for children or elderly family members and then suddenly – a house full of someone else’s personal items to process. Having been in this position, this is a huge task and not one that can be resolved in a few hours or days.

Imagine if someone had to empty your house tomorrow. How long would it take them? Where would you want these belongings to go? Do you support a particular charity or local cause? If so, make these wishes known.

It is also a useful task to regularly de-clutter your home and see if some of your unwanted belongings can go to others in need now. By routinely de-cluttering and adopting a more minimalistic way of life as a standard, you can live a freer life and not have so much to leave behind when the time comes.  


I know of specific valuable items that belong to people and the peculiar ways in which they keep these items within their home. Families run the real risk of throwing away these valuables in error. If this sounds like you – please let someone know where these valuables are stored. Most people would want to ensure their loved ones receive these treasured items – and they don’t get thrown out in a skip in a rush to clear a home.

A recent news story covered how a ‘Couple accidentally lost £15k when clearing a house’. The couple had cleared through a family member’s home and took items to the local tip.

Fortunately, the Refuse Workers who were processing the items discovered a box. Inside it was the cash and they managed to re-trace the couple and return back the haul.

There will still be people out there who keep cash under their mattress so these losses may be more common than we know. Thank goodness for those very diligent and honest refuse workers. It again demonstrates the need to at least leave someone a note to say what items are of value and where they are in the house.

Value vs. Value

Take the same word VALUE and it’s two very different meanings. Think of this:

Value #1 – Items of monetary value

You may have a record collection that you know is worth thousands. I may see that pile of old records and think ‘who wants those??’ and dispose of them. Think of items that you have that are so specific or of real financial value. Would anyone else know what they are and their importance? Think of rare books. I wouldn’t have a clue so they would all go to the charity shop. It is not all bad news as somewhere in the chain, someone may get a precious rare book for 50p – but the deceased may have wanted their family to have that item.  

Take for example collectable items. I have seen one too many episodes of Pawn Stars whereby people take in their family heirlooms in order to generate some cash. When asked if they can authenticate the items and ownership, the response is usually – my ‘Great Gran got this signed letter from a President so and so….’. Okay great! Do you have anything to prove it belonged to your family member and how they came to own it? The answer is usually ‘No’. Then in comes the expert to try and establish its validity and worth.

Some people will want these treasured items to be passed on but don’t leave any instructions. If people have a Will, the focus is usually on property, cash, savings and investments. Yet often, there may be other significant value items that are left behind but legal arrangements have not been made about their future ownership. Do you want to spend the rest of your life battling with family members over who gets the collectable train sets? I doubt it.

Value # 2 – Items of personal value

Now think of your possessions that have little or no financial value – but are the most valuable to you. Items you may have collected on a special holiday. A tea pot set from Grandma. Pebbles from the beach on the last walk you had with the person you have lost. A favourite football shirt you wore the day your team won the cup final. Pictures and keepsakes from your wedding day or children’s birthday.

These items are usually value-less in money terms but probably represent the most valuable items to you. I would guess that these items are rarely planned for or registered in a Will. Yet these items can be of such significance, and will probably bring the most comfort to the bereaved.

Your parent’s wedding rings. Do you have a plan for who gets those? Or will it be a fight to the end with your siblings in the future? Their anniversary cut-glass vase that they adored filling with flowers on Mother’s Day, always taking pride of place on the kitchen table – who gets to keep this?

As an outsider, you often hear stories of disputes over the seemingly smallest of insignificant items. However these are the ones that can cause the biggest family divisions after a death. I appreciate that you may not feel comfortable at Sunday lunch starting to claim items in the family home – not really a typical conversation starter is it? ‘Hey Mom, I am having your cake stand when you’re gone!’ But maybe that is exactly where and when these conversations should start to take place.

Important Conversations vs. Difficult Conversations

There is a subtle but significant language shift within the death and dying community. Instead of saying these are ‘difficult conversations’ to have, it is encouraged to say they are instead ‘important conversations’.

By having these important discussions here and there can make feel like a more normal topic. This can be very empowering. I often find that having these conversations in a humorous way can also be an ice breaker. That is not to downplay the seriousness of death, but to get the conversation started so we begin to know what people’s wishes are. This way everyone will be clear that when we are no longer here, our items of value (in either sense of the word) go on to their intended new home. Your memory can then live on without causing further family heartache and provide some much needed comfort.

Take some time to think about your items of value – financial and emotional. What would you want to happen to them in the future? Have the conversations with your nearest and dearest and make sure that if it is important, get it written down somewhere.

Create your Sunset Plan today. Why not share this post on social media? It could just help someone get organised and be ready for the future.

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