A family home is not just bricks and mortar, contained within it is a lifetime of memories. This makes decluttering and valuing possessions a difficult job for the recently deceased.
While it is never going to be easy to throw away the remnants of a once-lived life, there are practical ways to approach this most difficult of duties.
The first thing you need to ascertain is the legal position. You need to know if there is a Will, if so, who has it, and most importantly who is appointed executor.
Who is named as executor in the will?
It is the executor’s duty to ensure that the estate administration is done correctly. If the will says for the property and its contents is to be sold, then they must adhere to this. The executor will need to put the property on the market, and check for any valuables that will need to be sold separately.
Clear the rubbish
Start with what is obviously rubbish. Get a bin bag and toss everything in, don’t forget to empty the contents of the fridge and freezer, then switch these appliances off.
Be mindful of others, if it’s not obvious rubbish, check with family members first before you throw the items away unless there’s a risk of the items being contaminated, then you will need to dispose of them.
Once you have cleared the rubbish out, you will need to get a valuation of the property for probate purposes.
Find an estate agent or three
Find an estate agent who is accredited with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and ask them to value the property. It’s a good idea to get up to three quotes then take the average of the three. This valuation will form part of the calculation for inheritance tax (IHT) so make sure they’re not overstated. However, if you sell the property for more than the value given to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for probate purposes, you could be liable for Capital Gains Tax.
Selling the contents
Once you have the Grant of Probate, you are free to sell the contents of the property. If there are valuables you may wish to go down the auction route. Any monies raised from the sale form part of the estate.
Selling the house
Again, you need the Grant of Probate to sell the property. You can market in advance, but the estate agent should inform any potential buyers that the property can’t be sold until probate is obtained.
Clear the clutter
Now comes the really hard part, you will need to go through a lifetime’s worth of possessions and decide what is worth keeping and what needs to be sold, donated, or thrown away.
During this time, you will often be distracted by items that provoke memories. To keep on track, and, if you really can’t bear to just throw things out, hire a storage unit and keep it until the time you are ready to make decisions about each item.
When a possession is owned by yourself or someone you loved, the endowment effect comes into play; you will believe that item is worth more than it actually is. If this value is emotional, keep the item. If it is a belief that something is a valuable asset, get it assessed, these items are often not worth what we think. Remember, paying a premium for an item, does not mean it holds that value, few things do.
Dress the house to impress the buyers
If the furniture in the house is in good condition, reduce the volume, keep flat surfaces clear of clutter (including kitchen appliances), and give it a deep-clean. You need the buyer to be able to see the possibilities of the house for their family, rather than present it as a monument to your family.
Declare the value
HMRC will want a valuation of all house contents for tax purposes (including electrical good, furniture, and cars). If the total value of the household contents is expected to be less than £1,500, you do not need a specialist to value the items, you can submit an estimate.
Sell the house
Once the house is sold, the monies from the sale form part of the estate, once this along with any other assets is sold, the executor must follow the wishes of the deceased as laid out in their will and distribute this money (and any individual gifts named in the will) to the beneficiaries.
Before you die . . .
Swedish Death Clean and make a Will.
In her book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Margareta Magnusson, extols the virtues of decluttering in mid-life to avoid someone having to do it when you’ve died. While this might be an overwhelming thought for many, you could make it an enjoyable treasure hunt. If possible, get your family involved, that way they will learn what is important to you, and what you consider rubbish. You will uncover long forgotten items, and you will be able to ascertain what your family value too, possibly leaving it to them in your will. Not leaving your family to deal with your clutter may be the best legacy you can leave them.