Tips for Dealing with Personal Property in an Estate
by Julie Hall, ASEL
1. Prepare ahead of time. Get to know trusted local resources, ask questions, and have a Plan A and Plan B. Think about all you will need ahead of time. Start making a list of all the contact numbers and resources you will need. Plan ahead, so your loved ones won't have to do this during a time of crisis. Decisions made in the midst of a crisis are often hasty and flawed.
2. Enlist the help of siblings. Ideally all surviving adult children should participate if they are able and if they are helpful; it saves time and gives everyone a chance to be together and feel a part of the process.
3. Locate Important Documents. This could be a nightmare if you didn't discuss it with your parents or they didn't discuss it with you. That is why it is so important to have that conversation before infirmity sets in. Many older people keep important papers in a strong box or safe deposit box in the bank which you may or may not be able access once they pass. Make sure you know the location of all keys, passwords, etc.
Look for: Will/Trust, bank account information, insurance policies, retirement and investment accounts and contacts, titles/deeds to cars and the house, location of keys, contact information for all professionals they have worked with (attorney, financial advisor, CPA, Insurance company, etc.).
4. Get professional help. It's too daunting to go at it alone when there are skilled professionals to guide you through the process. Pick out good ones and listen to their advice. Most of the time, they are worth their weight in gold. Remember that you can enlist the help of a personal property appraiser to determine the worth of your personal property, and a trustworthy estate sale professional to sell the items for you. http://www.aselonline.com/find_asel_associates.html. This is the time to lighten the burden and ask for help from those who know how to do it.
5. Take inventory, take photos, but don't take the stuff until the process is understood. Walk around the house with a notebook/computer and list anything that has either financial or sentimental value. Make copies and send it to your siblings/children/heirs. If you have an appraisal done, you can share this as well.
6. Secure valuables until it is decided if they will be kept of sold. It is the executor's responsibility to protect the assets. Retrieve keys or change the locks. An empty home is a target. Never leave valuables such as estate jewelry, sterling flatware, cash, or rare art in an empty estate. The executor should remove them, keeping them at a safe location until such a time as they are to be divided among family or sold. Document what has been removed and where it is kept. This information should be shared with all immediate heirs with the understanding the executor is not keeping them, only keeping them safe for the time being. The estate process can be lengthy and estate items have a tendency to "walk" away over the course of time. Remember to choose professionals that will help guide you through.
7. Set a date to thin out the house, or if this is too daunting, enlist the help of an estate sale company to empty it for you by combining an estate sale and total clean out service. This would ensure it will be done correctly and relieve you of a heavy undertaking.
8. Establish 4 areas in the house. You may not always know what to keep, what to throw away, what to donate, and what to sell. This is where an estate consultant can really assist you.
9. Be fair and share. If there are disputes, turn to The Boomer Burden for solutions and remind those involved politely that it "isn't about you." It's about doing the right thing and honoring the loved one who is gone.
10. Start from the top and work down. When you begin the process of thinning out, always start from the top of the house and work your way down.
11. Be safe. Always have gloves, dust masks, insect spray, first aid supplies, hand tools, etc. Bomb attics and garages with insecticide 3 days prior to going in those dark places.
12. Be green. Recycle as much cardboard, paper, and plastic as you can. Consult local refuse haulers and environmental agencies for instructions on how to safely dispose of cleaning solvents, paint, etc.
13. Check the hideouts. If they lived during the Depression, they have things hidden. Favorite hiding places? Toilet tanks, ice cube trays, books (look for cash in pages), canister sets, mattresses, floorboards, drapery hems, wrapped in handkerchiefs.
14. When in doubt, don't throw it out. Make sure you have a professional look at everything first before you throw it out or give it away. It's natural to be tempted to keep everything, but you can't. It will drive your spouse crazy, not to mention your kids when it comes their time to clean out your house.
15. For each thing you bring in your home, let go of two things. Clean out your own closets, attics and garages. Statistically, we only use the same 20% of what we own anyway. Dress the less fortunate and help many people with your unwanted items.
©2014 American Society of Estate Liquidators® - reposted with permission