Elderly Couple Moving into a Smaller HouseAs Elder Law Attorneys, we help people with the issues they have as they get older. This includes legal concerns as well as personal and family matters. One issue that comes up a lot with our older clients is the decision to give up the family home and move into a smaller place. This is not an easy decision to make, but in our experience, it can be the key to being able to stay independent and age on your own terms.

When a Big House Is Too Much to Manage

As you get older, the care and upkeep of the family home may become overwhelming. Not only is it physically difficult, but it can become a drain on your finances when you could put that money to much better use. If you have lost your spouse and are alone in the home, it is even more difficult. We all hope to be able to live in our own home for as long as possible, but sometimes the home we have lived in for 40 years is not the right home for this. Independent living may mean having an environment you can manage by yourself, and that often means getting rid of a lot of stuff and moving into a smaller home.

Because the proceeds from the sale of a house could affect your ability to qualify for Medicaid or VA benefits later on, your first step before selling a house should be to discuss ways to protect your future eligibility with an estate planning attorney.

Tips for Tackling Downsizing

You have a lifetime’s worth of meaningful belongings in your home, and it is difficult to think of parting with them. However, the sooner you begin to tackle the job, the easier it will be on you and your children. We hope the following tips will make this task a little less daunting:

  1. Give yourself time. Starting this major undertaking well ahead of when you need to be out of the house will be the greatest gift you can give yourself. Given the time, you can tackle one small area at a time and gradually work your way through the house, rather than being overwhelmed by trying to do it all in a single week because your spouse has died unexpectedly or the house has sold.
  2. Get help from a friend or family member. You need an objective person to help you decide what to keep and what to pass on. If you are the designated helper, try to offer “yes or no” options rather than “this or that” options. For example, saying, “These are the most useful pots you have. Would you like to keep them?” is much more helpful than saying, “Would you like to keep this pot or that pot?” Be tactful, but remember the goal is to get rid of stuff.
  3. Don’t make a “maybe” pile. As you go through items, make a keep pile and a give-away pile, but do not allow yourself to put anything in a “maybe” pile. You have to commit to a decision now and stick to it, or you will not make any progress towards your goal of downsizing.
  4. Pass on special items now. If you have family heirlooms or other valuable property, consider gifting them to family members and friends now rather than leaving them in a will. This way, you can make sure these special objects go to the person you want to have them, and you can enjoy their appreciation for the gift. It can also prevent disputes among family members after you are gone.
  5. Use technology to preserve memorabilia. You certainly don’t want to destroy one-of-a-kind family photographs, newspaper clippings, or meaningful documents, but it is impossible to safely store these things and move them from place to place indefinitely. Thanks to modern technology, however, you can preserve them in digital files that you can more easily view and share with multiple family members. There are services you can use that will take all of this memorabilia, scan it, and save it on a flash drive.
  6. Hire professional help. Once you have decided on a manageable amount of stuff to keep and have given away what you want your family to have, we suggest hiring a company to come in, price what’s left, and sell it for you. You can specify what you want to happen to the things that don’t sell, such as donating them to charity. This service will cost you some of what you would have made in the sale, but it is well worth it.

There is no doubt that it is very difficult to think about saying goodbye to the things that have been a part of your life for so long, but if you tackle the job in small steps and involve your family, it can be much easier.

John K. Ross IV
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John K. Ross helps clients in Texas and Arkansas with all matters of Elder Law including estate planning.