Most of us have extra keys lying around in the corner of a drawer, on key chains or, like me, mixed in with odds and ends in the tool cupboard. Some belong to long-discarded padlocks, some to previous homes, or often to offices that have long-since had their locks changed.
I don't know what it is with some of us: we (myself included) seem to have a strange relationship with keys. It's almost as if we expected ancient rusted padlocks we jettisoned years ago to make a ghost-like return, making the key essential again. Useless keys seem to be more difficult to throw out than regular garbage.
When you think about it, the reason is quite clear: we are taught from an early age not to lose our keys, not to leave them lying around, not to go out without them. It used to be that having your own house key was quite special, a passage into adulthood. It meant you could come and go as you pleased (almost). The magic age in England, where there was even a song about it, was 21. (Can you imagine the war that would be declared by today's teenagers if they were denied a key until age 21?)
Collections of old keys are harmless enough until it comes time to settle your estate. Then (especially if the collection is quite small), they can cause your executor some mild uncertainty. Is there something of value somewhere your executor knows nothing about? Is there a boat, a garage, a storage locker, a box? In the extreme, is there even another residence no one else in the family is aware of (it happens)?
The executor (who also has a collection of useless keys) eventually concludes that yours are useless, too. But he or she can never have the complete comfort of being totally sure.
This discomfort, mild and temporary though it may be, could easily be avoided if each key is tagged or labeled and described in a list that also tells your executor where to find it.
And those old friends you can't bear to part with? Heaven forbid that we should try to change that habit! But could we not place them tenderly in a container marked "sentimental keys, of no earthly value to anyone but me?"
This is just one of dozens of helpful ideas presented in The Estate Manual. The manual organizes the human side of estate planning. This area is often overlooked, but it makes a huge (and obvious) difference to survivors. It is an easy-to-use system for making sure nothing is left out of your planning. Learn more at: