WHY A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY WHEN CLEANING OUT AN ESTATE
Recently, I was asked to handle the daunting task of emptying a hoarder’s home. The home owner had passed away in the home. The sole heir, who lived several states away, required assistance to identify items of value, discard tons of garbage, sort through the piles, etc. The heir’s goal was to empty the home so the real estate could be sold. For anyone walking into this home, myself included, it would be considered an overwhelming situation, let alone for an heir who has no knowledge of how to proceed.
I agreed to do the job. We went in and systematically approached the entire estate, attacking the most dubious areas first. Handling a hoarder’s estate is, quite literally, an archeological dig. We unearth one layer at a time. We work through the system, we follow the proper process that we have perfected, we sort as we go, and we report back to the heir/executor what we find. In short, if there is something of value hidden, we will find it for the family. Sadly, much of what we find that used to have value no longer has value, because it has been destroyed from being buried for decades, exposed to critters, relentless fungi, deterioration, etc.
I don’t mind sharing with you that this was a grueling job, even for this professional with decades of experience. Progress was slow since the home was in very bad shape with rodent nests and “evidence” of them, and the home smelled. Naturally we took all health precautions, but it is difficult especially early in the process because there is no room to sort, organize, etc. Room by room, we used the same method; over the course of 9 days we found some pretty spectacular things.
Our systematic approach might seem overkill to some, but had we not taken our time to go through a logical sequence and particular order, we never would have found over $40k in cash (in places that another clean out company would have just discarded without looking, or donated without taking the time to search every nook and cranny). We found an extensive coin collection, cash, some jewelry, sterling silver hidden in a cubbyhole no one knew was even there. We found guns and what I call “uniques & oddities” that were just fascinating to uncover.
Imagine us heading into a walk-in attic that was up to our elbows and higher in places! Clearly, the elderly client had not thrown anything away for generations. While the digging part and the smelly part and finding the dead critters part were less than thrilling, someone had to do this for the client; it might as well have been my company.
While I was totally focused working in this estate, I had several very important thoughts I would like to share with you.
1. How fortunate for the client, and the attorney representing this client, that they chose a professional who was honest. That cash would have and could have easily disappeared if they chose an estate person who was unethical and unprofessional. When I took that money to the law office, they knew they were dealing with a person of integrity. One has to earn their impeccable reputation.
2. Thankfully, we do have a systematic approach in place to uncover everything. What if we had mistakenly thrown away the cash? What if we never found it and it ended up in the dumpsters?
3. You get what you pay for. If you hire a clean out company that just throws things away, you could be making a grave mistake.
4. For Do-It-Yourselfers: There’s nothing wrong with this approach. However, you can become emotional, creeped out, and overwhelmed, and decide to start throwing items away quickly to get finished. I spend a lot of time pulling things out of the trash that my clients have thrown out, because they don’t know the values.
The moral to the story: It took more than one lifetime to create the mess we “un-created” in a little over a week. Most families could never have finished in so short a time if they did it themselves, and would certainly have made unintentional mistakes which could have been costly. Search for and research any estate company you are thinking about using. They are worth their weight in gold if they have a great reputation!
©2014 The Estate Lady®
Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.
No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent. Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com