How To Make Leaving Home For the Very Last Time Easier

By Jane Lott

One of life’s most painful experiences is coping with a loved one’s death and even the most rational minds can find the simplest decisions difficult when the grieving process occurs.  But decisions about closing up the family home become next to impossible and doing the work of sorting, packing and throwing away can be too overwhelming to contemplate. 

Many times at this juncture, a family member either calls Goodwill to take it all or parks everything in a storage unit at $187 a month until someone gets around to dealing with it.  Even after depositing items in a storage unit, ten years (or more) may pass before the final disposition of those items in storage.  To prevent ­­­­­­­­­­­­regrets ~ selling a valuable antique for cheap at an “estate sale” or spending money to storage old newspapers ~ here are five key points to note in closing out an estate:

  1. As with any major project, plan ahead as much as possible. First, determine if you have the time and resources to handle the cleanout by yourself or if you should hire an estate services professional. Emptying a home takes weeks, months, even years. Consider what your time is worth and how costly any delay in selling might be.
  1. Expect conflict, both in your own emotions and among family members. Family dynamics are heightened at times of stress, and something about “inheritance” brings out the worst in people. Whether you are the estate executor or not, consult with a professional if things get out of hand.
  1. Take care of pets and perishables immediately. If the pet owner has named a new owner for Fido, consider yourself lucky. If not, the Marin Humane Society can offer guidance. Perishables and garbage must be removed for health and safety reasons. But be careful! Don’t just dump the sugar canister or throw out the old mayo jar. As people age, they worry more about theft of their belongings and often find very creative storage places. CAUTION: Take medications to a pharmacy for disposal.
  1. Distribute items according to the will or trust. This is more difficult than it sounds. Often, an heir has moved and left no forwarding address. Sometimes, the item can’t be found. Be sure to keep a detailed record of everything you dispose of or distribute. You may have to prove you acted responsibly.
  1. Take care of yourself. The task of cleaning out a home is physically strenuous and emotionally draining. Get adequate sleep, plenty of rest, good meals and exercise. Seek help from a grief counselor, if necessary, or contact Hospice about grief support groups. If you find that closing the home is too overwhelming, call in a professional. Most offer free consultations. 

Jane Lott, of Silver Rain Estate Transition Services, is on the board of Whistlestop. Reach her at [email protected]