Woman packing personal items after the death of her husband

Cleaning Out a Loved One’s House After a Death

When you have recently lost a loved one, straightening up their assets is often the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, a large part of the legal proceedings following someone’s death is handling their estate.

While there isn’t a surefire way to make grieving any easier, there are some things to consider that make the process go as stress-free as possible.

Beginning the Journey

Cleaning out any home is no small feat. It is easy to become overwhelmed, especially when you are bereaved. Setting a clear schedule and making a physical checklist is important to keep organized and focused.

Consider taking the following steps to “secure” the home and get started.

1) Forward Their Mail

No good ever comes from mail piling up. It alerts thieves that a house is empty and is an easy way for potentially important papers or packages to go missing. A quick trip to the local post office and filling out a couple USPS forms will allow you to forward your loved one’s mail to a new address.

You can choose whichever address suits you best. You may want to send it to your personal address or private mailbox. You may even ask a loved one to collect the mail for you while you work on everything else. Just choose whatever works for you.

Although this may be financially taxing, it is very important that you stay on top of bill payments. Contact companies that have services the home will no longer require during the cleaning phases (such as cable or magazine subscriptions). Make sure to pay the important bills that you need to retain ownership of the house. The faster you sell the house, the faster you can end this financial burden.

2) Change the Locks

Sadly, if there is one thing that attracts potential looters more than mail piling up, it’s the news of someone’s passing to the wrong person with a spare key. You never know who got ahold of spare keys lying over the course of your loved one’s residence.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust anyone, but in times like this, you are better safe than sorry.

Changing the locks is a smart move to secure the premises as well as give peace of mind to potential tenants. Imagine how unnerving it would be to know that there were strangers floating around that could come into your home as they please.

3) Collect Important Documents

Now that that is all taken care of, you are ready to start going through the items of the home. This is an incredibly emotional step, so it is important that you keep level headed and get your priorities straight before walking in.

Before you begin to sort through clothes or heirlooms that may elicit strong emotions, you should find all their important documents. You will likely need these to ease the sale of the home/ clearing of the estate.

It is also important that you secure these documents so they don’t accidentally fall in the wrong hands. It may seem cruel, but identity theft does not escape the deceased.

Of course, it may be difficult to get a hold of these documents without a little digging (and who knows? They may just be missing).

If you can, try to get your hands on at least the following documents:

  • Will
  • Insurance policies (specifically life and homeowners)
  • Bills
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Any bank statements

Not everyone has a safe in their home, so consider looking in other secure places. Check under their mattress, in file cabinets, or even on the computer. Always go through all papers before disposing of them as you never know where something crucial is hiding.

If you can’t find everything in one go, don’t panic. They will likely turn up in the final preparatory step. Just make sure to keep organized and store any potentially important documents in a marked box separated from everything else.

4) Sort Personal Belongings

The final preparatory step is arguably the hardest one. Before you can put the house on the market, you need to go through personal belongings.

The process can be both emotionally and physically taxing.

What to do with the items you find may be specified in the will. If it is not, you will be given some more freedom on what goes or stays.

Ask friends or family if they would be willing to help you out with this daunting task. There are even some services available to help you with this which you can hire individuals to come and help inventory the belongings and dispose of unwanted items.

It is best that you divide all items into one of four piles:

  • To Keep
  • To Throw Out/ Recycle
  • To Sell
  • To Donate

What you do with larger items such as appliances or furniture will depend on what you want to do with the cleaned house.

The Final Step

The final thing that must be taken care of is deciding what to do with the house. This decision will likely be left up to the will.

Remember, if it is not specified in the will and you are dividing assets among several parties, legally, a decision must be reached. You may choose to sell everything and split the sales or have one party inherit the house and provide compensation to the others.

Depending on your area of residence, there may be laws dictating how estates must be divided in the absence of a will.

Your Options:
  • Keeping the home: If you want to continue living in the home you inherited, you just need to make sure all of the papers switched to your name.
  • Renting the home: For those unwilling to part with the estate (or are not able to move into the new residence at the moment), you can rent it out to others. Depending on prospective tenants, you may choose to leave the home furnished.
  • Selling the home: If there are several parties written into the will, it may make the most sense to liquidate the estate and divide the sales according to the inheritance. Selling a house can take time and, depending on how desperately you want to part with it, leaving it on the traditional market may not be ideal. Consider the use of home selling services, such as Twin Cities. These services aim to help people sell their homes quickly and discretely, delivering much-needed cash in as little as 24 hours after contacting them.

The prospect of cleaning out someone’s home can instigate a whole range of bittersweet emotions. It can be an overwhelming task, but there are some steps you can take to make it less complicated.

Although it can be hard to think about yourself in these trying times, try to consider what is best for you and your mental health. You don’t have to take this up all on your own, there are always people looking to help you.