Your parents talked about downsizing for years, but they never did it. As a result, you are left with the family home full of their belongings after their death. Regardless of what their Last Will and Testament says, someone is going to have to catalog and clear the furniture, artwork, dishes, books, clothes, and other possessions out of the home before it can be sold. This overwhelming task often falls to adult children. As Elder Law attorneys in Texas and Arkansas, we see this scenario play out time and again, and we have some tips for how to cope. We also want to take this opportunity to encourage you to be proactive about your possessions to avoid subjecting your children to the same challenge.
How to Handle Clearing Out the Family Home
The first person to visit the home after the death—whether it is the closest child or the executor of the Will—should take steps to secure the property and make sure no one has unauthorized access to the home. You should also make sure you understand the terms of your parents’ Will so that you are in compliance with their wishes. When you are ready to face the task, you can then take the following steps:
- Set aside photographs and mementos. Take photo albums and sentimental items that have no value to anyone outside the family and put them in storage containers to be sorted later. Unless you are an only child, do not take possession of anything at this time.
- Arrange a time for all of the children to meet in the home. It’s a good idea for all of the siblings to gather in the home before any big decisions are made. Spouses and grandchildren often complicate this task, so limit the meeting to just the children. Walk through the house and allow everyone to share what they would like from the estate. Try to work out compromises and remove the desired items at this time. If there are major conflicts, they will have to be worked out later.
- Decide if you want to hire an estate liquidator. Once the sentimental and valuable items have been removed from the house, you might decide to hire a company to hold an estate sale to get rid of the rest of the stuff. While these companies do a lot of the hard work for you, they keep as much as 40 percent of the gross sales, so it’s only an option if you’re willing to give up the potential proceeds.
- Sort and organize items. If you choose to clear the house yourselves, go about it in an organized way. Make piles of items to sell, donate, and throw away. Put someone in charge of taking care of each pile. This is a time- and labor-intensive process, so make sure you are prepared for it.
Of course, your parents’ wishes, as spelled out in their Will, must be honored as you go through this process. If all of the children inherit the whole estate equally, ideally, you can work on cleaning out the house together and deciding who gets what.
Don’t Do This to Your Children
Very often, people tasked with clearing out a deceased parent’s home are in their 50s or 60s and have young adult children of their own. They will swear up and down that they will not leave their children with the same kind of mess, but unless they begin to take proactive steps soon, the cycle will continue. We encourage empty-nesters to take a gradual but committed approach to downsizing, including:
- Purge the junk. Do not delay in cleaning out the junk in the basement and garage. Sell anything that’s worth money and donate or toss the rest. This is a difficult and thankless task to leave to others to do.
- Giving items to your children now. As soon as your children start to set up their own homes, give them furniture, sentimental childhood items, artwork they admire, tools, and kitchen gear—anything you are no longer using or can live without. You help them save money and put your things to good use.
- Moving into a smaller home. Don’t wait too long to make the move into a smaller home that you can grow old in. Whether it’s a carefree senior condo or a one-story house, the move will force you to purge extraneous possessions and set you up to be able to age in place.
- Selling valuables. If you have objects or collections that are valuable and that your children are not interested in, start trying to get the best possible price for them now and put the money to good use.
- Stop buying. Your days of accumulation should be over at this point. Stop buying more things and start spending your money on travel or gifts for other people. Better yet, make smart investments and start building your Trust for your heirs.
Life is full of uncertainty, and it’s never a good idea to keep putting off vital tasks like downsizing and Estate Planning.
Are You Looking for an Estate Planning Attorney in Texarkana, TX?
If you are looking for Estate Planning advice, you need to speak with an experienced Estate Planning attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Texarkana office directly at 903.223.5653. We also have offices in Tyler, Paris, Longview as well as Magnolia, AR!