Donating your loved one’s personal belongings to charity

5 min read

Advantages of donating a loved one’s things to charity

  • Charitable giving may ease the pain of loss.

  • Donations can become a beautiful part of your loved one’s legacy.

  • It feels good to do good by providing someone with something they need.

  • One donation can lead to an ongoing partnership between you and the charity of your choice.

Sorting through a loved one’s personal items after they pass away can be a big job. Whether they lived in a small apartment or a huge house, the sheer volume of things can be overwhelming. And in addition to being as time-consuming and exhausting as any move, it comes while you are likely dealing with all of the difficult emotions of grief. As you sort through a lifetime’s worth of items—clothing, jewelry, and furniture, along with photographs, collections, and even mundane items like canned goods and toiletries—you might find yourself sorting through your own memories and the pain of your loss through a different, unexpected lens.

One way to honor the person as you go through all of this stuff may be to donate the things that you or your family won’t be keeping to charity, donations that can become a beautiful part of your loved one’s legacy. Although it may be difficult to think about a stranger using your loved one’s personal things, consider the benefit they might bring to someone in a less fortunate situation. 

Some charities collect prescription glasses for the seeing-impaired. Others distribute cell phones to victims of intimate partner violence. These may seem like mundane items, but they could significantly improve the quality of someone’s life.

Before you begin

The executor is responsible for cataloging and securing all of your loved one’s personal belongings. It is important to remember that all of these belongings are now part of the estate; unless your loved one specifically designated any of them to be given to charity, they will need to be passed on to the beneficiaries named in your loved one’s will (or to their heirs if there is no will) along with all of their other assets. 

In practice, however, research suggests that most families and other beneficiaries agree to donate items of little monetary or sentimental value, or even to let the executor decide what to donate at their own discretion. This should be agreed to explicitly at the outset, however, preferably in writing, to avoid the possibility of an unfortunate and costly legal disagreement down the line. Speak with an estate attorney if you’re unsure about this step of the process.

Where and how to donate

Goodwill and the Salvation Army are well-known national organizations that can accept a wide variety of goods, but there are an amazing number of smaller charities that accept more specialized items.

There are charities that use old watches to help train veterans in the art of watchmaking. Animal shelters can take blankets and linens for bedding. There are a number of programs that accept gently used makeup and toiletries to distribute to terminally ill patients, caregivers, and unhoused individuals. Local food banks can accept most things that are unopened and not expired. 

Donations can become a beautiful tribute to someone's memory as well as a source of personal joy and fulfillment.

Before you make your donation, it’s important to check that the organization you have in mind can take what you are offering. Some places have condition requirements. Organizations that accept motor vehicles will often take cars that don’t run anymore, but for things like clothing and appliances, many places will only accept things that are in decent working condition. Most charities have a list of what they will or won’t accept posted on their website, as well as instructions for exactly where and how to drop off donations.

Keep in mind that except for certain donations given in the will itself, you cannot deduct charitable donations from any taxes owed by the estate.

Other ways of donating

If you are a beneficiary or an heir to part of the estate, once you receive your bequest or inheritance you can, of course, donate those assets or proceeds from their sale however you see fit (and potentially deduct them from your own taxes). One deeply meaningful way of doing so is to create a relationship with a charity in your loved one’s name. There are a lot of great organizations out there, and with a little research, you can find the one that feels like the perfect fit for you, your family, and your loved one.

If you take this route, you may find that you’ll want to stay involved, whether through continuing to donate or through volunteering, organizing, and fundraising with the organization over the long term. You might sponsor an event or support specific work your loved one was passionate about. These donations can become a beautiful tribute to their memory as well as a source of personal joy and fulfillment.

At a time when you may be feeling incredibly low, consider that charitable giving may be a wonderful way to ease your pain. Many studies have proven that doing good things for other people has a positive effect on both our mental and our physical health. It’s specifically been linked to instances of lower blood pressure and stress levels, and it can ease feelings of depression and increase self-esteem. Humans are social creatures by nature, and the joy of giving back is a very real and beautiful part of how we can help ourselves as we help each other.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.