Tips for cleaning out a loved one's home.
Whether you’re facing the loss of a loved one or helping an elderly parent move into a senior living facility, you may find yourself tasked with sorting through their possessions and cleaning out their home. Having a plan in place before you start can help make the process as efficient, productive and stress-free as possible. These steps can help.
Involve other family members.
Start a conversation about what happens next, such as what you’ll do with the home (will you sell or rent it?) and its contents. Decide on a plan and a time frame, divide the labor and assign tasks. Consider your parent’s or loved one’s wishes regarding the division of assets if applicable. Keep in mind that if a loved one has passed away, most states require that the will is processed before items can be removed from the home.
Locate important financial and legal documents.
Check desk drawers, file cabinets, safes and computer files in the home for insurance policies, car and house titles, wills and trusts, tax returns and retirement and bank account information. You may find these in unexpected places, such as under a mattress or in a kitchen drawer, so it’s a good idea to review every piece of paper you find. Once you’ve gathered these important documents, be sure to store them in a secure location.
Take an initial tour and quick inventory.
Before diving into the organizing and sorting, go into each room and take notes or pictures. This can give you an idea of how much time it’s going to take to complete the job of clearing out the entire home. Remember to include the garage, yard and any attics or storage units.
Create a system for sorting items to keep, sell, donate or toss.
Using clearly marked boxes, colorful stickers or simply grouped piles can help you stay organized. As you begin sorting and decluttering, keep these tips in mind:
If your loved one is moving into a smaller home, take measurements so you know in advance what items and furniture will fit in the new location.
Start with the least personal rooms, like the laundry room, pantry or a guest room. This lets you ease into the process of sorting items that are less likely to evoke strong emotions. Try to finish one room before moving on to the next.
Gather packing supplies — like boxes, tape, labels and bubble wrap — for items to be moved.
Keep like items together as you sort — for instance, group all soap dispensers together and all trash cans together — so you can keep the ones in best condition and get rid of the rest.
Talk to other family members before selling or donating items to see if they want anything.
Consider selling unwanted household items that are in good condition by holding an estate sale, garage sale, online or at a local consignment shop.
Consider donating unwanted items to a local charity or non-profit organization.
Contact an appraiser to help price valuables like jewelry or art you may want to sell.
Forward mail and cancel utilities.
As soon as you’ve completed your sorting process, discontinue any ongoing services like lawn care, pest control and trash collection.
Prepare the home for sale or rent.
Clean the home inside and out – and make any needed improvements, like painting, updating flooring or landscaping.
Ask for help and take advantage of available resources.
Clearing out a loved one’s home can be an emotional and time-consuming task. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others who can give you a hand, including local resources in your community, like the ones below.
- National Association of Senior Move Managers can plan and manage the transition and relocation
- American Society of Appraisers can help you find an accredited local appraiser
- Local estate sale companies can price items and manage every aspect of the sale
- Local charities like Goodwill, The Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity; some offer free donation pickup
- Local junk removal services or dumpster rentals from a waste management organization
- Local food rescue organizations for non-perishables
Enlisting help and working together can make the process easier and more productive. It can also bring family members closer together as you sort through items and share memories while taking care of this important milestone for your loved one.
This can also be a good time to review your own estate planning documents — such as wills, trusts and medical and financial directives — to ensure that your wishes and beneficiaries are up to date. You can learn more about estate planning or contact one of our Commerce Financial Advisors who can answer your questions and help you get started.