How to Part with a Deceased Loved One’s Belongings

deceased person's belongings

How to Part with a Deceased Loved One’s Belongings

When a loved one dies, deciding which of their belongings to keep or discard can be emotionally taxing. This isn’t the same as cleaning out your personal junk drawer. Take ample time for this sensitive project. Each of the deceased person’s things has a story. You might even benefit from professional help if you decide you need it. Here are some tips to get the most positive benefit out of the experience.

 

Getting Started

If you’re the executor, the family member with the legal responsibility to manage the disposing of the estate, it is up to you to orchestrate the process. To “dispose of” something does not mean to throw it in the garbage, as our culture tends to use it. The phrase really means, “to put into order.” Clear communication and decisive action will go a long way to maintaining good will and even strengthening relationships.

If the deceased left a will, this will be a great help to you. It will provide instructions and somewhat insulate you from being the bad guy. Even so, your loved one probably didn’t designate a new owner for every single belonging. You may have to make some judgment calls.

If you are not the executor, recognize that person may need your help. The more hands, the better, so long as everyone works peacefully together. This may represent a new chapter in your relationship with the other surviving friends and relatives, so try your best to act mature and appreciative.

 

Vultures or Drama Queens

You may find that a lot of family members want certain items. Unfortunately, there may not be demand for all of the clutter, but mostly just a few special keepsakes and valuables. It will be in your interest to maintain a calm and authoritative position.

Lock down and establish calm order. Change the locks on the house, if necessary. Isn’t that overkill? This advice is for protecting against a worst case scenario. Many family members or neighbors may have keys. Some may (publicly or secretly) harbor chemically dependencies or gambling problems. It often happens that someone attempts to swoop in and take valuables that they can sell to support their habit. Keep an eye on guns, jewelry, knives and other valuable collectibles. You do not want your family’s treasures and heirlooms enabling destructive behavior.

After that, you should talk to other family stakeholders and work out a diplomatic process to disburse the wanted and valuable property. Stay calm and flexible. Speak honestly about what items you care most about. Seek to understand why someone wants something in order to work out differences peacefully.

This article contains additional suggestions for tense situations. Consider it a good checklist for closing up many loose ends to the business of the deceased.

 

The Rest of the Stuff

Hopefully, you’ve peacefully resolved who keeps what. Now you’ll need to separate what to sell, donate, or throw away.

If the house will be sold, consider if a piece of remaining furniture enhances or detracts from the house’s value. An empty space is better than a cluttered one. 

This may be when the pain of the loss creeps in. Throwing away the common possessions that were used by your loved one is hard. This article offers a lot of tips working through the grief and mourning involved through this stage of letting go.

Do not rush the process. Grief clouds your judgment. You don’t want to look back and regret losing something that you hastily threw away. On the other hand, something that seems incredibly important just after a death may seem ridiculous in months or years. As long as you’re not investing your entire fortune in a storage unit to do so, keep it until you’re ready to let go.

When you are ready to move ahead, you might want to invite a service to help. If a local church or community group has a rummage sale, they may collect the items as a donation.

If there are still a large number of collectible or decorative items, there are businesses that will come in and help you sell them. One such company is Everything But the House.

This article also has a lot of advice about various avenues for distributing or disposing of the remaining items. Pay special attention to paperwork. You may need to refer back to bank statements and other documents for several years following your loss. However, when you do get rid of documents with the deceased person’s personal information in them, be sure to shred them.

 

Keep the Stuff… in Perspective

Make sure that you don’t chuck something out that has significance to you or your family, just because you get caught up in purging. Give yourself permission to keep a special memento that you truly want. If you have storage space, you might offer to store a few items for long-distance family.

Maybe you can help a family member by giving them something they need. A used vehicle might operate better than the one they are holding together with duct tape. Remember, your deceased loved one does not care for those items anymore. Use this process to improve your family relationships.

Take lots of pictures or video as a way to document those memories tied to this place and these things. Go ahead and chronicle the special memories that you and your family had.

 

PHOTO: Unsplash / CC0 Public Domain

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