Downs Law Firm, P.C.

home contents

What Happens to Home Contents when Someone Dies?

Please Share!

It is quite a tragedy when a loved one passes away. You may want to remember them by keeping sentimental objects from their home, or perhaps they wanted you to inherit a specific item.

Usually, the most trying job is managing home contents after someone dies.

Probate law does not allow anyone to take items from a loved one’s home after they die until Probate Court has appointed the executor. The home contents should be protected intact during Trust administration until the trustee proceeds with legal advice.

Handling these items is often a minefield of emotions, especially for assets that might not have significant resale value.

Learning about probate or Trust administration, what they entail and how to prepare for it may make it a little easier when a family member dies, says a recent article titled “Can you empty a house before probate? from Augusta Free Press. Knowing what to expect can avoid common pitfalls and mistakes, some of which often lead to family fights and even litigation.

Probate is a court-supervised period when the decedent’s estate is on pause. Assets may not be distributed, including personal items in the home. The goal is to ensure that assets are distributed only after the will has been ruled valid by the Court, and according to the decedent’s instructions.

Probate includes the legal appointment of the executor, who is named in the will with specific statutory responsibilities, to include ultimately distributing assets.

The process is not Court supervised by a trust, but the trustee must act prudently according to the terms set up in the trust.

For many people, estate planning includes preparing assets to avoid the probate process. An estate plan consists of reviewing the entire estate to see which assets are best suited to be taken out of the estate. Living trusts, joint ownership, transfer-on-death (TOD), and many other estate planning strategies can be used, depending on the person’s finances.

Specific tasks can be accomplished during probate relating to the house and home contents. These include changing the locks on the home to protect it from criminals and unauthorized people who have keys. The executor should forward the decedent’s mail. A review of the decedent’s bills, especially monthly payments, can occur. If there’s a mortgage on the home, the mortgage company needs to be contacted, and the payments must be made.

As the end of the probate period nears, it may be time to contact an appraiser to get an unbiased, professional appraisal of the home’s value. This will be needed if the home is to be sold or if the estate plan needs a valuation of the home.

Unless you have a Trust, Probate is a necessary process. It can create challenges for the family, especially if no estate planning has been done. In some jurisdictions, probate is quick and painless, while in others, it is a long and expensive process. Prior planning by an experienced estate planning attorney prevents many of the issues presented by probate.

After probate has been completed, the executor distributes the assets, including the home contents. Administering an estate when emotions are running high is challenging for all concerned.

Another reason to have an estate plan in place is to delineate what you want to occur after your death. There is no room for family members to stake a claim and do something contrary to your wishes.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (May 13, 2022) “Can you empty a house before probate?