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The Necessary Task of Cleaning Out a Home After a Death

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April 10, 2019

When someone in your family passes away, it can be devastating – even if it’s expected. If that family member lived alone, and has no living spouse or dependent children, it’s often necessary to sell the house in order to settle the estate. Even if the person was a renter, the home still needs to be cleaned, emptied and vacated.

Though you are no doubt grieving, you will have to get this done in order to put it behind you. But you don’t have to do it alone; share the responsibility with family and other loved ones.

First steps

Since the home will be sitting unoccupied, you will want to change the locks and have the mail forwarded to your address. Later, you can go through the process of cancelling subscriptions, credit cards and utilities, but for your immediate needs, just have all the mail forwarded.

Next, deal with all the banks, financial institutions and lawyers. Start the process of going through the will. Unless the home was specifically left to one person, it is considered an asset that will need to be divided up upon its sale. Are there specific items in the will left to benefactors in the will? You will have to locate these items first and ensure they are given to the individuals named in the will.

The executor of the will has to ensure that this is done.

Tackling the project

If your loved one had been in the home for a long time, chances are they have saved up a lifetime’s worth of possessions. You truly cannot understand how much stuff they had until you start to pull it all out. It can be overwhelming!

To make the cleaning and organizing part less stressful, go room by room and divide up the tasks among other family members and loved ones who are helping. As you move through the rooms and sort through the items, make three piles: keep, donate and throw out. Make sure you’re being fair about the items you keep, ensuring that everyone gets things they want (and are entitled to). If there are disputes over items, you might have to hold an auction or come up with a fair way to distribute quality items, such as family heirlooms.

If you have many items to be donated, you might have to rent or borrow a truck to haul items to second-hand shops and charitable organizations. It’s better to donate and recycle items than throw them away. That said, you might need to rent a large dumpster if you have a lot of garbage, as well.

If you live out of town, you might want to stay at a hotel while you’re cleaning and emptying the house.

Final steps

Once the items are gone, you can start preparing the house for sale. If you’re dealing with a rental, you can return the keys to the landlord and pay any final fees.

If you want a quick sale, and just want to settle the estate and move forward, you can just do simple fixes, such as filling nail holes and repainting. Since the house is empty, you will want to clean it thoroughly and maybe have a realtor stage it for sale.

If you’re not making major renovations, price it accordingly. However, if the family all agrees that you want to make top dollar on it, you can invest in some renovations to justify a higher asking price. Many families just clean and paint, though.

Once you’re done, walk through the whole house to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Check the attic, basement and all cupboards and closets.

You can settle the estate once the sale of the house goes through.

Saying goodbye to the house might be tough – especially if you have childhood memories attached to it. Cleaning it out and moving on can be bittersweet, but it is quite often a necessary step.

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