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Tending to Personal Belongings After a Loved One’s Death

Gabrielle Applebury
Woman organizes clothes

Going through a loved one's personal belongings after death can feel overwhelming. While there are some legalities to keep in mind before you get started, there are some helpful tips you can use to make this process go smoothly.

Personal Belongings After Death

Prior to divvying up personal belongings and taking on the responsibility of managing your loved one's estate, it's important to make sure that you are legally entitled to do so. If the deceased individual left a will or trust that distributed their property, you will know who they've named as their executor to carry out these duties, and the will can be filed and proved in probate court. If there isn't a will or trust, you will need to go to probate court and hire a probate lawyer to see who is named as the executor. Once this has been sorted out:

  • Identify any beneficiaries.
  • Make an inventory of all real and personal property with estimated values.
  • Prepare to sort and transfer their assets.
  • It's also important to ensure that any dependent children have appropriate care. If both parents have passed away, the court will either name a guardian, or the guardian named in the will can begin to care for the child or children.
  • If the deceased individual had a pet or pets, it's important to secure a safe and loving home for them. Although this may be difficult, use the animal shelter as a last resort as they may be put to sleep if not adopted.

Access to House After Death

If you are legally entitled to access the property:

  • Consider changing the locks and ensuring their security system (if applicable) is working properly.
  • Make sure packages and letters are brought in regularly so it isn't known that the house is vacant.
  • Be sure that all doors and windows are locked every time you leave the property.
  • Mail can also be forwarded to your address if that makes it a bit easier for you.
  • Throw out, donate, or use perishable items.

What Do You Do With Personal Belongings After Death?

If you have been named the executor, personal belongings can be sorted and sold, donated, or kept. You may also ask family members to help you sort through items and categorize them. You can also see if they would like to keep anything for themselves or their family. Break up the sorting process so you aren't too overwhelmed with how much is ahead of you. Keep in mind that there are companies that you can hire to assist you with this task if you feel you need additional support.

  • Create categories to help you organize (keep, donate, throw away, recycle).
  • Keep collectible collections together and consider getting them appraised if you plan on selling them.
  • Organize important documents (house deed, birth certificate, insurance information).
  • Shred any documents that you don't need to keep that could be used for identity theft.
woman packing cardboard box

Personal Belongings After Death Without a Will

If there isn't a will or trust, you will need to hire a lawyer and go to probate court so someone can be named the estate executor. Once someone is named executor, they will be able to divvy up the personal and real property. The court may split property amongst all the beneficiaries as well. If there are no heirs, the entire estate may go directly to the state. If there are arguments over certain items:

  • Consider having a mediator assist you in resolving.
  • If the item is of significant value, you may need to refer to the probate court ruling to see who is entitled to what.

Getting Rid of Loved One's Belongings

If there is no extended family and you are the sole beneficiary, it is up to you to decide what you'd like to do with your loved one's personal items. Take your time sorting through their items and know that this may bring up some intense emotions for you. If you feel too overwhelmed with this process, consider hiring a professional company to help you sort through their items. For some it may be meaningful:

  • To keep a few sentimental items
  • To donate to a charity that was close to your loved one's heart
  • To give away items to those in need

How Do You Let Go of Someone Who Has Passed Away?

Processing the loss of a loved one can take time, and there is no set amount of time it takes for individuals to grieve. Be patient with yourself, allow yourself to feel your emotions, and seek out a counselor or therapist for additional support if you are struggling with acts of daily living, or are having thoughts of harming others or yourself.

Removing Items From House After Death

After the loss of a loved one, it can feel overwhelming to begin sorting through their personal and real assets. Once everything has been legally okayed, take your time moving through this process and reach out for additional support if you'd like a bit more help.

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Tending to Personal Belongings After a Loved One’s Death