Clearing Out a Relative’s Home

Losing a loved one is an intensely difficult period of your life. Add to this the need to clear out their home for an estate sale, and you may find yourself floundering over the best way to approach the whole situation. It can be difficult to know where to start, or you could find that you have a much shorter deadline than you would like to have. 

We have gathered some of the best tips we could find from those who have complete estate clear-outs that will hopefully help make this process as easy as it can be for you. 

One such historic place being the Thomas Massey House which dates all the way back to 1696 when the Quaker Thomas Massey settled in now what is known as Broomall PA.


Step 1: Change the Locks

Before you do anything else, you must ensure the house is secure. Even if you think you know where all existing keys are, you can never be certain that one has not been missed. The easiest way to secure the home is to change the locks on all external doors. This may be a simple job that you can do yourself, depending on the lock. Alternatively, if you contact a locksmith, this can be done easily. 

If your loved one lived in rented accommodation, we recommend speaking to them immediately both to notify them of the passing and to secure the property until it can be cleared. 


Step 2: Check the Will

Reviewing your relative’s will is an essential step before beginning to clear anything out of the house. Depending on your relationship with them and the nature of their death, you may already be aware of the contents of their will. If this is the case, we recommend you still check it over to ensure everything is as you remember or expect. If you are unaware of the contents of the will, then reading it is essential to ensure you are the correct person to clear their home. 

If your loved one has died without a will in place, then intestacy laws will describe how their property will be allocated. You must not begin to move or dispose of their assets or possessions until their estate has been allocated. We advise contacting a legal professional to avoid any questions of wrongdoing from other relatives. Also, as intestacy laws can be different depending on which state you are in, it is always worth having everything checked by a legal professional. 


Step 3: Gather Valuable Paperwork

If you are confirmed as the person who will be clearing the house or in charge of the paperwork, your first step is to get all the valuable paperwork in one place. This will include any:

  • Legal documentation
  • Insurance policies
  • Paychecks
  • Social Security information
  • Utility details 
  • Login information for online records
  • Credit card bills/bank statements
  • Tax Information
  • Paperwork relating to high-value items in the home

After locating all of this paperwork, put it to one side for when it is needed, preferably in a folder or safe if there is one available. If you need to deal with any of the paperwork immediately, then take the time to do so before you begin looking at personal possessions.


Step 4: Make a Plan

If you do not have a plan for how you will approach this task, it can end up becoming something that just does not get done. Clearing out a loved one’s home can be a daunting and emotional task, so having a plan in place for how you will approach it will make a difference in how long it will take. 

You can do this in numerous ways, but the most straightforward is to create a timeline and stick to it. Set yourself limits for how long each room/task will take, and force yourself, if necessary, to stick to the limits set. 


Step 5: Begin Looking at Possessions 

Now that you have prepared the home for sorting, it is time to begin the task. If you are the sole relative, this can be an overwhelming task, and if you are not, this can be complicated. Our recommendation for tackling this is the same regardless. 

We advise you to do an initial sort through of possessions and create piles/label items as you go. The easiest way to do this is room by room. During this, we advise making four piles: 

  • Broken items – likely to be discarded uncontested/definitely to be discarded
  • (Potentially) High-value – Need to be appraised 
  • Items already bequeathed in the will – if there are any
  • Other

Not all of these will be relevant if you are the sole relative. However, there may be some items that have been left to charities or friends in the will.

Anything that has been individually gifted should be given as soon as possible, broken items discarded, and potentially high-value items appraised. 


Step 6: Begin Working with Family Members 

If you have other family members, now is the time to get them involved. After all the items that have been gifted have been removed from the home, other members of the family can begin looking at keepsakes for themselves. This can be relatively easy if everyone has a good relationship. If not, it can get contentious, so you may want to keep a list and not let anything leave the property until every family member has been to look around the house. 


Step 7: Donate, Donate, Donate

Now that all personal items and keepsakes have been dealt with, try to donate as many of the possessions not being kept as possible. Some organizations will pick up furniture and appliances directly from the home, so look into this for your area. 


Step 8: Liquidate the Remaining Assets

Now that the house is empty, it is time to liquidate any high-value assets and items. An estate liquidator may be the best way to go if you are unsure of what to do or there are a lot of items to liquidate. 

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