When we hear the term “estate planning”. Many of us think of getting our wills, trusts, and other documents in order. However, there is so much more to it than that. A huge part of helping your aging parents with estate planning is going through their possessions and downsizing. This can be a wonderful opportunity to preserve and understand parts of their lives that you may have never known about. Especially in late life, most of us have collected so many possessions throughout our lives. They each tell a story. Learning about their lives through items they have collected throughout a lifetime is something very special. While it may be overwhelming to think about going through and organizing so many items, there is a new approach to estate planning to make it more straightforward. It’s called the “four box approach”.

Many families end up playing a guessing game about their parent’s possessions after they pass away especially if there is nothing in writing. This can be difficult both financially and emotionally. This is where planning in advance with the four box approach that this Forbes article describes can come in. Your parents may question your motives in wanting to help them downsize and organize. They may wonder if you’re moving them into an assisted living, or even contemplating their death. Make sure to reassure them that this is just a way to organize their possessions and it can even be enjoyable.

So here’s how the four box approach works. You may have guessed that you will need four boxes. Next comes labeling each one. Number one will be “keep until I die”. This will probably be things of sentimental value, such as family heirlooms and photo albums. Number two will say “appraise and sell”. This would be full of items of value that are not wanted. Next comes the “keep with me” box. This includes items they want to keep with them, regardless of where they live. Finally, the “garage sale or donate” box. Of course, this would be unwanted items with little value.

For bigger items that won’t fit in boxes, like furniture, consider putting pictures of them on index cards and putting that into the appropriate box. The four box approach is a great way to organize, downsize, and learn about your loved one’s life in an enjoyable and easy way. You may learn things about them that you would have not known without going through this process. While it may seem like you should wait until the need comes up, it is never too early to start planning. In fact, it is an extremely smart move to start in advance.