When Your Loved One Dies

A parent or grandparent has just passed away, and you are responsible for their estate liquidation.  What do you do?  Here are the most important practical steps to take, as you begin this process.

  1. Change the locks on the estate immediately to prevent unscrupulous heirs from entering.  While this will ruffle some feathers, it is absolutely the right thing to do to protect the assets from disappearing — and they will.
  2. Secure the valuables, jewelry, money, sterling, artwork, etc. in a safe deposit box (if the executor has a safe at home) or other secure location with the understanding that the storage is just temporary.  Never leave valuables in a vacant home as it will become a target.  Also, this is not an excuse for heirs to “help themselves.”  The executor will need to take charge and remain firm.
  3. Look for a cash stash.  Many people, particularly seniors, tend to hide money in places you would never think to look.  If memory impairment was evident, leave no stone unturned because valuable items can surface in the strangest places.  But remember too, a loved one with dementia will also give things away.
  4. Search for important papers: will/trust, tax documents, papers for house/car, deeds, any inventory or appraisals, anything with family history documented, life insurance documents, etc.
  5. Hire a professional certified 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.  The appraiser can also act as a consultant who can advise on the distribution of the contents.  They should never offer to buy what they appraise; that’s a conflict of interest.
  6. Knowing ahead of time if there will be contentious moments with heirs and if you suspect trouble, get that appraisal report and divide the estate as equitably as possible, unless the loved one left specific instructions otherwise.
  7. High end personal property should always be sent to an upper-tier auction gallery.  Have it professionally valuated to see which auction it should go to.  If liquidating the estate and it contains good, usable contents and plenty of small items, antiques and collectibles, hire a professional estate liquidator.  (www.ASELonline.com)
  8. Whoever you choose to hire, investigate them first by contacting the BBB, ask and check professional references, and make sure their company is registered in the state.  Not every company is as it seems.  You want a pro you can trust.

© 2012 Julie Hall

6 thoughts on “When Your Loved One Dies

  1. Great suggestions! I would also suggest that you strongly encourage them to not throw away or donate anything before they have talked to a professional. Thanks! Would you mind if I reference your article on my blog?

  2. Julie – My first downsizing project was cleaning out my parent’s home to ready it for sale and what an overwhelming project it was! Thank you for your thoughtful words – you’re a great writer! Keep up the good work!

  3. OMG! I wish I had found this in January when I had the daunting task of cleaning out all the trash left in my late mother’s 3 family brownstone after 8 squatters took over the house and locked ME out.

    Even though I am 8 years younger and live in another state, our mother made me executor. I had a long talk with my sister about what our next steps would be, trying my best to include her in every decision, like Julie said, trying to not “hurt” her feelings. We decided to split certain duties went I got back home, which we did successfully and she assured me everything would be taken care of as far as the house. Well, all my sister cared about was keeping the house…….for HERSELF, make a lot of money renting out the other two apartments and keep me in the dark as to keeping all the profits. I didn’t do any of the things Julie pointed out in this blog. After years in landlord/tenant court (I later found out she stopped paying the mortgage), and tons of lawyers fees the house is now vacant….vacant of everything! What wasn’t nailed down my sister took or the tenants completely destroyed, including the house. Years and years of childhood memories, heirloom furniture, mother’s treasured collectibles, china, jewelry, clothes and pictures!!

    Now the house is in shambles and I haven’t spoken to my sister in years. I’m completely overwhelmed, stressed and pray I don’t have a nervous breakdown. No one prepared me for what I was going to have to deal with being executor. My mother passed in 2008, and I am still dealing with her estate.

    Bless you Julie for sharing your knowledge.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. It happens much more frequently than people know and this story is a great reason to plan ahead, communicate with parents, siblings, etc., all being on the same page and each being ethical and honest about the process. I realize that this is an idealistic point of view, but my sincerest hopes for all of our futures and keeping the peace. I am so sorry you have had to endure this challenge.


  4. Of course we never like to talk about losing a family member, but it has to be discussed. These are absolutely excellent tips and steps to take in the event. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *