How to Clean a Relative’s Estate After Their Passing

A man packs a picture frame into a box of miscellaneous items

When a loved one passes, it is a difficult event for the whole family. Everyone wants the process to go as smoothly and painlessly as possible. One of the most challenging parts of putting a loved one to rest is cleaning out their estate after their death. It’s a seldom-discussed part of life, but the reality is that most people have to go through this process at some point. At Five Star Storage, we’re always ready to help when life events strike. Here are some of our tips.

Locate Any Important Documents

The last thing you want to do is accidentally throw out something important to put your family member to rest. Find anything that relates to their will, life insurance, home insurance, bank statements, bills, and stocks or bonds. Locating all of these at the beginning of the process will make acting on them easier, as bank accounts, bills, and stocks or bonds need to be closed and transferred to whoever is listed to gain ownership of them in your loved one’s will. 

Secure the House

If necessary to give you peace of mind, you may need to have the locks to the home changed to ensure that only those who need to be entering the home have access to enter. You never know who has keys to the home, so changing the locks may be vital. If your loved one was a renter, you may need to consult with their landlord to see what the appropriate steps are to make the home secure.

Stop or Transfer Services

Your loved one will likely still receive mail or any of the services they had before their passing. If it was a sudden passing, you may still be receiving bills and other documents that need action, so mail should be forwarded to someone who can take care of it. If they were an elderly member of the community, they may have received services like Meals on Wheels or home health that need to be contacted to keep from having to pay additional expenses for services that are no longer needed. This includes car insurance, phone services, and so much more.

Gather Your Siblings

Before beginning the process, you should all come over to the house and have a look at things you may want. If it isn’t exclusively listed in your parent’s will, find a way to divide items up between you and your siblings. If you think your family can compromise, ask your siblings to make a list of their top three items and share the lists to decide who will make compromises if necessary. Try to avoid lawyers if at all possible—stressful events like the death of a relative can cause fractures in family dynamics, and you don’t want to exacerbate issues if you can help it.

Bring the Rest of the Family Together

Though the involvement of extended family may make the process of cleaning out the home more difficult, there still may be items that your extended family wants to keep that weren’t listed in the will. Have them peruse the items you have elected to keep or set items aside that you think they may want. If there are tensions between your family, have them come in smaller groups to keep from causing fights while going through the items. If things are good, they can come all at once and decide on compromises in person.

Process and Create a Plan of Action

Take a walk through the house and get your bearings on where everything is. This can be an overwhelming process, so don’t be ashamed if you need to take breaks or leave the house for a while. Once you have an idea of where all your loved one’s belongings are stored, divvy up the ones that have been claimed by your siblings and decide on a course of action on how to move forward with cleaning out the house. This also includes setting an end date for your sorting to ensure that you are getting through the items in the home in a decent amount of time.

Set Photos and Memorabilia Aside

While these may well be the most important items you end up finding in the house, going through photos, memorabilia, or other family mementos will slow down the process. Processing emotions are important, but the truth of the matter is that the window to clean everything is smaller than you think. If you don’t have space in your own home, consider renting a storage unit near you for any items that must be sorted later. 

Sort Through Belongings

The quickest way to clean out your parent’s home is to divide and conquer. If you have multiple people helping you clean the house out, start everyone in a separate room. Decide what qualifies to be kept and what should be gotten rid of. In each room, create boxes that include “estate sale”, “online sale”, “donate”, “trash”, and “keep”. This way, you can ensure that items are going where they should be going. Maybe even create a box for uncertain items and come together, in the end, to decide where to send them.

Hire an Appraiser

If you plan on selling the house, you will need to have it appraised to see how much the home is worth in the current housing market. An appraisal is all part of the process to learn what needs to be fixed up or how much the home is worth. They can also tell you what items in the home are valuable enough to be sold for a higher price.

Donate and Sell Items

If you hired an appraiser or know that some of the items in the home are worth something significant, take them to the right place to sell them or hold an estate sale. If you don’t think anything is that valuable, host a garage sale for anything that you don’t want to keep but have some monetary value. If things aren’t taken or if you don’t want to mess around with a yard sale, donate items to a place like Goodwill to allow them to help others who might need them. 

If you are looking for tips for an estate sale, check out our list below. 

  • Take a detailed inventory of what you are selling to make sure you don’t accidentally sell something you wanted to keep. 
  • Keep emotions out of pricing to make sure that the most accurate price is placed on an item. If you aren’t sure, an appraiser can tell you how much something is worth. 
  • Don’t hesitate to fix or clean something up to make sure you are getting the best value for the item. A few minutes of TLC can be worth the extra dollars. 
  • Set your estate sale for a weekend day and advertise it with photos of the items you will be selling to maximize the number of people who show up. 

Ask for Help When You Need It

If cleaning out the home ever gets to be too much for you or if you aren’t sure what to do with all of the items, don’t be afraid to hire someone to do a lot of the leg work for you. Estate liquidators can help you get rid of any valuable items if you aren’t sure what to do with them. Other companies can help clean out the home or take items to appropriate places if you think the whole process will be too overwhelming. Be sure to take out photos, family mementos, and anything you want to keep before letting someone have free reign over the house.

Use Self Storage if Necessary

At the end of the day, figuring out how to declutter a home after a death can be a difficult and grueling process, especially if the home is very cluttered with items that have sentimental meaning to you and your siblings. You may need assistance from outside sources. The tips above can help make this process easier for you and your family by limiting heated feelings and decreasing the amount of time needed to clear out the home. Storage units can help you find a temporary space for items while you deal with everything else—and here at Five Star Storage, we have a wide variety of storage units at affordable prices. Contact us for more information.

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