1. When a loved one has passed away and you are responsible for handling and eventually liquidating the estate, change the locks on the estate immediately to prevent unscrupulous heirs, neighbors, etc., from entering. While this will ruffle some feathers, it is the right thing to do to protect the assets from disappearing. It is the fiduciary responsibility of the executor to secure the estate and contents.
2. Secure the valuables; jewelry, coins, sterling, etc. in a safe deposit box, or if the executor has a safe at home, or other secure location with the understanding placing it there is just temporary. It is not advisable to leave valuables in a vacant home as it will become a target. Also, this is not an excuse for an heir to “help themselves.” The executor will need to create an inventory list of the valuables and be accountable for caring for them. It might be prudent to let the heirs know these items are in your care only temporarily to secure them and create a photo/video record and written inventory in the event there are any questions.
3. Look for a cash stash. Many people may hide money in places you might never think to look. If memory impairment is/was part of the situation, leave no stone unturned because items of value (such as gold coins) can surface in the strangest places such as in shoes, coat linings, old purses, toilet tanks, freezers, etc. Remember too that sometimes a loved one with dementia will also give things away or throw them away.
4. Search for important papers: Will/Trust, tax documents, deed for the house and titles for car/boat, stock certificates/other financial assets, any inventory or previous appraisals to help identify items (usually the values are much higher than they should be so don’t get stuck on the $ figures), anything with family history documented, life insurance, etc.
5. Hire a professional personal property appraiser who is well respected in the community to review the contents of the estate and ascertain what has value vs. what doesn’t, especially if you feel there are items of significant value. Many appraisers can also advise on different levels and should not offer to buy what they appraise. Estate sale professionals and appraisers (sometimes one and the same) work closely together and are extremely knowledgeable in working towards maximizing proceeds, guiding and advising in numerous, beneficial ways.
6. If you know ahead of time that there might be contentious moments with family members or you suspect some turbulence when it comes to the division of personal property, use a new and updated appraisal to divide the estate as equitably as possible unless the deceased loved one left specific instructions otherwise.
7. Higher end personal property requires thought and advice from professionals in the industry. Not Aunt Mary’s cousin Bobby, who dabbles in flea markets. That is why you hire us. We can suggest upper tier auction houses that we have built relationships with, or at the very least know the options available for handling such pieces. If considering an estate sale and it contains good, desirable contents and plenty of small items, antiques, collectibles, unique items, etc., hire a professional estate liquidator. (www.ASELonline.com). They are amazing at lifting this burden from the family.
8. Interview two or three estate sale companies before making a final decision. Research the company, ask for and check professional references, and make sure their company is a real business in your county/state. Not every company is as it seems as more and more “pop-up” companies appear overnight. You want a pro you can trust.
When researching, you will be looking for serious red flags, not a complaint from an estate sale buyer who didn’t like the prices because “they were too high.”
An estate sale professional has a very challenging and serious job to do. Allow them the space and time in which to do it. Once they are hired, let go. They know how to price items; the family does not. Family has a tendency to place higher “values” on items then they are actually worth because of their attachment.
In 2017, the personal property market is significantly softer than the average client understands. Remember to discuss questions and concerns with your chosen estate sale professional. Proper communication can relieve a host of potential problems!
©2017 The Estate Lady® Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is a national expert in dealing with 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.