Managing the Estate: A Guide to Handling Loved Ones’ Belongings

4 months ago
Managing the Estate: A Guide to Handling Loved Ones’ Belongings

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The post offers a comprehensive guide for adult children navigating the process of clearing out their departed elders’ estates, from managing sentimental attachments to practical decluttering strategies and preparing the house for sale.

Becoming an expert in clearing out houses wasn’t exactly what I aspired to, but being the eldest among my siblings has landed me with ample experience in this realm. Over time, I’ve had the responsibility of managing the estates of several departed elders in my family. Sadly, organization wasn’t their forte, leaving me to navigate through a lifetime’s accumulation of belongings. If only our family were renowned for our organizational skills! Regrettably, that’s not the case. Hence, out of necessity, I’ve honed my organizational abilities. However, the downside is that my own home is now brimming with items I couldn’t bring myself to part with from others’ homes. But, I digress.

While some individuals meticulously outline who inherits what in their wills, none of my relatives have done so, except for maybe designating the house or a functioning car.

Inheritances often comprise treasures for one person but hold little significance for others in the family. Ideally, each item finds a willing heir within the family, yet more often than not, disputes arise over a handful of sentimental possessions, leaving the rest to be disposed of.

Avoiding Conflict

To preempt disputes, it’s wise to involve all family members from the outset to express their preferences. While resorting to drawing straws isn’t beyond consideration, usually, discussions suffice to reach a consensus.


My clearing process typically commences in the kitchen because of the perishable nature of some items. Anything unexpired is promptly donated to the local food pantry, while the rest is swiftly discarded.

Donating to Local Shelters

My initial contact is always with local shelters to inquire about their needs. Their requests occasionally surprise me, but I’ve learned that their necessities vary widely. Some accept open containers, while others don’t, hence I always inquire beforehand. As I progress through the house, I set aside items requested by shelters. This approach allows me to contribute significantly to charitable causes while enabling the estate to receive recognition for its donations.


I tackle the task room by room, establishing designated areas for items to keep, donate, sell, or discard. Typically, the garage serves as a temporary storage space because of its ample capacity once the car is relocated. Occasionally, I must wait for favorable weather to clear out the garage and access the car.

Selling Items

While estate sale companies exist, my family’s possessions rarely possess the allure that attracts buyers. Instead, I occasionally list valuable items on platforms like Craigslist, particularly furniture and tools. Alternatively, I reserve items for a substantial garage sale, determining their suitability as I progress through the clearing process.

While the monetary value of items may be limited, it’s worth conducting thorough searches for any hidden valuables. Checking pockets, inspecting shoes, and even examining unconventional places like the toilet tank have yielded unexpected finds, such as keys to safe deposit boxes or missing heirloom jewelry.

Dealing with Financials and Paperwork

I defer sorting through paperwork until later stages, instead consolidating it in one location. While I may categorize it into several piles, I refrain from delving into financial intricacies until after the house is prepared for sale. However, critical documents are promptly identified and secured, preferably entrusted to a trustworthy family member.

The Importance of Emotional Distance

Maintaining emotional distance from the task at hand is essential to ensure progress. Dwelling on sentimental attachments can hinder decision-making, leading to excessive retention of items and potential hoarding tendencies. I remind myself to assess items objectively, considering whether they hold practical value or merely sentimental significance.

Though it may be tempting to stay overnight in the house, especially if it’s distant from my residence, I’ve learned that it’s counterproductive. Exhaustion from prolonged sorting and cleaning compromises productivity and well-being. Instead, it’s advisable to either return home or stay with a nearby acquaintance.

Surprisingly, attics and basements often prove the easiest to declutter. Despite being intended for long-term storage, much of the contents often amount to clutter rather than cherished possessions. Distinguishing between items of value and those deserving disposal is relatively straightforward. However, reminiscing over every item, such as flipping through photo albums, can impede progress and result in unnecessary expenses.

Items initially designated for retention may later be reconsidered for disposal. Flexibility is crucial in adapting to changing preferences or discovering unanticipated practicalities.

Selling the House

Furnishing the house minimally enhances its marketability, particularly if certain fixtures like carpets show signs of wear. Stripping down to essentials and selectively reintroducing decorative elements creates a welcoming ambiance conducive to a successful sale. However, personal mementos should be discreetly stowed away, replaced with neutral decor to facilitate potential buyers’ visualization of the property as their own.

Following the sale of the house, I arrange for the sale or donation of remaining furniture and possessions. Organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army often provide pickup services, simplifying the disposal process.

Mail Forwarding

Lastly, ensuring mail forwarding is set up prevents the oversight of crucial documents, including tax-related paperwork, ensuring seamless estate management.

Source: The Caregiver Source, A. Smith, Guest Author, “Dealing with the stuff they leave behind”

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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The post Managing the Estate: A Guide to Handling Loved Ones’ Belongings appeared first on Family Caregivers Online.

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Jordan M
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