Losing a loved one is never easy, and going through their belongings gives a sense of closure. Whether you inherited a house full of stuff or you’re allocating personal belongings, it’s not always easy to know what to do with the more personal items. While you know it’s important to hang on to vital documents, what about the mundane, everyday possessions?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Documents to Keep After Someone Dies
- Personal Items to Keep After Someone Dies
- Tips for Choosing What to Keep After a Loved One Dies
Having these mementos close to you after the death of a loved one could be a powerful way to help your own grief. Not only are these great to share with your friends and family, but they keep your loved one’s legacy alive. In this guide, we’ll clarify which personal items to keep after a loved one dies.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle both the emotional and technical aspects of their unfinished business without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
Documents to Keep After Someone Dies
There’s a lot of confusion about what documents to hold on to after someone dies. While you should always keep financial and legal documents, what about the things that don’t fall into those categories? Here are some other important documents to keep after someone passes.
1. Password logs
Make sure you always keep a log of important passwords. Access to your loved one’s accounts, records, and digital documents is essential. It’s easy to forget about passwords in all the hustle and bustle, so secure this first.
2. Business documents
If your loved one owned a business or was involved with any businesses, make sure to hold on to these documents as well. This could include income statements, expense records, payroll documents, and so on. When in doubt, speak to a business attorney.
3. Home and utility bills
We all dread going through our own bills, but it’s important that you go this extra mile for your loved ones. It’s up to you to make sure these accounts are closed and handled accordingly. From there, hold on to these essentials to make sure they’re no longer in your loved one’s name.
4. School records
No matter how long ago your loved one was in school, hold on to their school records if you can find them. Not only do many schools appreciate having a record of their students from the past, but these are a great way to keep their legacy alive.
5. Passport and ID documents
Identification documents like passports, driver’s licenses, and so on should also be held on to. These should be kept with your loved one’s death certificate. You might need them when proving your loved one’s identity, and they’re not something you’ll want to part with.
6. Tax forms
Hold on to your loved one’s tax forms and records for at least three years. While it’s unlikely you’ll need them in the future, the IRS does have the ability to audit these years if necessary. It’s always good to stay protected just in case.
You can read more about how long you should keep tax records after a death.
7. Retirement paperwork
Finally, hold on to your loved one’s retirement paperwork. This includes annuity contracts, pension paperwork, and so on. You’ll be in charge of taking care of these continued payments when distributing assets.
Personal Items to Keep After Someone Dies
What about the personal things in someone’s life? These small things might seem minuscule, but they form our favorite family heirlooms.
When you think about your loved one’s house, you probably have small things that stand out to you like their artwork, a favorite chair, or a special mug. What should you actually keep after their death?
The most important thing to keep is photographs, even those you don’t recognize. Your loved one likely has photos of those who passed before them, family members, and old friends. Holding on to these photos and keeping them safe is a powerful way to honor his or her memory.
While most clothing should be donated, feel free to keep the things that feel right to you. This could be a favorite sweater or a t-shirt that reminds you of happier times. No matter what you choose, don’t forget to include family members in your decision.
10. Antique furnishings and decor
Some things in your loved one’s home might have value, either as a family heirloom or antique. Saving these special pieces of furniture to add to your own space creates a reminder of them in your own life. You’re taking a small piece of them to keep with you always.
One of the most common things to keep after a loved one dies is jewelry. This is a way to pass down family classics and keep your loved ones close. Even if you don’t plan to wear any of the jewelry personally, holding on to it gives you the ability to pass it along later.
12. Journals and letters
Reading old journals and letters is a glimpse into the person you once loved. Though they’re no longer there with you physically, you can remember their spirit by taking this look into their past thoughts. Store these journals and letters for safekeeping or digitalize them.
Whether it’s artwork that your loved one created or their personal collection, art is a deeply personal thing. What they chose to decorate their home with said a lot about them, so why not bring some of this style into your own space?
If your loved one had plants in their home, taking over as their caregiver is a kind gesture. While you’ll need to develop your green thumb a little bit, having this thing they’ve grown in your own home is an important reminder that life always flourishes.
16. Glassware or dining sets
A lot of glassware or dinnerware is passed through generations. You never know the value this might have, so it’s common to incorporate the formal pieces into your own collection. Since this type of glassware is usually only used on special holidays, it’s a great way to honor a loved one throughout the year.
Blankets are a symbol of warmth and comfort. It’s no wonder these are so popular after losing a loved one. If they had any handmade or special blankets, keeping them close is a form of emotional security.
Last but not least, the small knick-knacks and trinkets around our homes often say something about who we are. Things like travel souvenirs, magnets, and everyday objects take on a new meaning after losing someone special. These make the perfect addition to a memory box or memorial.
Tips for Choosing What to Keep After a Loved One Dies
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the death of a loved one. You can keep as much or as little as you want, and this is often an emotional process. There are a lot of feelings of guilt, grief, and pain as you sort through a loved one’s things after they die. These tips keep things in perspective.
Bring in support
Don’t try to tackle this process alone. If you need to go through a lot of things, volunteer a family or friend to help you. Sorting through so much at once is overwhelming, and you might need someone to talk through these decisions with.
If it’s too much, consider breaking the process into multiple days or even weeks. There isn’t usually any need to rush. Take things at a pace you’re comfortable with.
It’s tempting to keep everything, but this isn’t actually practical. Less is usually more. Having your loved one’s things stuffed into storage or in bins in the basement isn’t ideal, so try to create clear boundaries.
Instead of keeping everything, think of this process as curating a special collection. You’re collecting your loved one’s most beloved treasures that have meaning to you. You don’t need ten of your grandma’s favorite sweaters or every film from your uncle’s collection. This is a highlight reel, and it doesn’t need to include everything.
Let go of your guilt
Last but not least, be kind to yourself. It’s easy to fall into the guilt cycle when you have to let things go. Keep in mind that your loved one wouldn’t have expected you to keep everything. These objects are only things, and they served their purpose throughout their lifetime.
It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to only keep things that make you feel good. In the end, this is entirely up to you and your family. There’s no use feeling guilty about things out of your control.
Keep Your Loved One Close
Losing someone special is never easy. Having a few of their things to keep close helps you feel like they’re always with you. If you’re tasked with going through a deceased relative’s personal belongings, keep this list in mind. It’s not always easy to know what really matters in the moment.
Consider how these things fit into your own life. They already served their purpose for your loved one, so now this process is about you. There are no right or wrong choices.