Doing Your Home-Work: Using Tech to Simplify Estate Planning

When thinking of estate planning, remember, “Home sweet home.” For most older adults, the home is their largest financial asset. They’ve invested decades of sweat equity and dollars towards its improvement and maintenance. They’ve filled it with furniture, family, and friends—and accumulated countless items of varying values and functions. They’d be devastated if any of it were destroyed, stolen, or damaged.

So how do you manage such an unwieldy treasure with a myriad of moving parts?

There’s a tech solution to that question, but first: Estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. We hear the words estate planning and perhaps think of Downton Abbey, but the truth is, we all have possessions of value—whether their value is sentimental, financial, or both. We want our children to have certain family heirlooms after we’ve passed away. However meager or magnificent, our estate will be managed by someone else—someone who does not understand its history and value—if we don’t manage it carefully ourselves.

A recent post, Where’s the Will? How to Store and Share Vital End of Life Plans, offered a guide to ensuring the important people in your life know where to find important documents after a death or health emergency. Here, we’ll take a look at estate planning basics—from designating what items go to whom, to downsizing your “stuff” now should a future care transition be required (and to spare your children from sorting through it all later), and preparing to sell your home.

“If you don’t know what you own, how do you know where it will go and when?” That’s one of the key questions Beth Dodson answers in the tech tool she created: HomeZada home management software.

Anyone who has a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy knows that an inventory of personal possessions is crucial when it comes to replacing items lost, stolen, or damaged. But the thought of going through the house—especially as an older adult with a half century or more of acquired stuff in every square inch of the property—is rather overwhelming, even paralyzing. Add to it important notes about repairs made and soon to be required, renovations completed, ongoing maintenance to dos, and more, and you might as well write a book.

Dodson, whose former professional life involved management of airports and sports stadiums, was determined to create a digital, accessible-from-anywhere home management system. And HomeZada does just that—and gives users the flexibility to do a number of things that pen and paper can’t do. For example, they can…

…choose from, then tailor, 50 common templates to track their personal inventory via smart phone/tablet photo uploads of items with notes (i.e. this rocking chair was Grandma Millie’s and goes to great-granddaughter Mia),

…designate items for donation (i.e. this dining room set was gifted to us on our 25th wedding anniversary and we’d like to donate it to a local women’s shelter)

…log maintenance and record repairs (i.e. boiler was last serviced on January 13, 2013, and was replaced in 2009),

…schedule renovations and home improvement projects (i.e. the exterior of the home was last painted in 2002 and should be done again in 2017),

…consider home modifications (i.e. after Mom’s knee replacement, we will research the cost of a stairlift), and more.

Whether you plan to sell your home and move to a retirement community or an adult child’s home, decide to downsize, or adapt your home to age in place, later life transitions can be stressful, particularly for those who are caregivers too. Should the unpredictable occur (a natural disaster, health emergency, or personal crisis), having these records in place will take the burden off you and your family. And that’s a worthwhile investment.

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