Clearing out a house after a relative dies can be physically tough and emotionally draining. When that relative is a parent almost everything you touch has the potential to spark memories, which makes the task very daunting.
Something that makes it even worse is not knowing where to start. Decisions about what to keep, recycle, donate, toss, or sell can be lengthy, especially if you know the items were treasured possessions.
It’s possible to get some help with cleaning out your parents’ house. There are professional house cleaning services that specialise in this kind of thing. However, for those of you who’d rather handle it on your own, here is a step by step guide of what to do.
1. Secure the house
If no one is going to be living in the house after the death of a loved one there are some things to do after the funeral. Firstly, it’s important that you make the house secure. Check that the locks all work, clear out any perishable items, throw away any organic waste and household chemicals. If you are unsure who has keys to the property you should consider changing the locks.
If your parent had a beloved pet, you’ll need to find it a new home if you can’t take it in yourself. The best case scenario would be to find a friend or relative who is happy to take in the pet as their own. If you can’t find someone you know who is willing to provide the pet with a loving home, ask for help from the RSPCA , The Cinnamon Trust or find a local animal shelter.
2. Find and keep important documents
If you’re lucky, your loved one was organised and had all their estate planning in place before they died and all the important documents neatly filed. If that wasn’t the case, you’ll have to go through every bit of paperwork you can find. Be on the lookout for:
- Bank statements
- Birth certificates
- Homeowners insurance policy
- Property deeds
- Life insurance policy
- Stocks and bond certificates
- Utility bills
- Credit card statements
- Letters from friends
- Bill receipts
Take it step by step - start by creating a box for each type of document and simply place stuff in them. Phase 2 will be the time to sort by date and organisation.
3. Check if probate is necessary
What is probate is a question often asked. It’s the legal and financial process of dealing with the property, money, and possessions of a person who has died. It is the process of proving that a Will is valid (if there is one) and confirming who has the authority to administer the estate of the person who has died.
Before any next of kin or executor named in the Will can claim, transfer, sell, or distribute any of the deceased assets, a grant of probate may need to be applied for.
Probate is usually needed in England or Wales when the person who dies owns property or significant assets in their sole name. It doesn’t depend on whether there was a Will. It depends on the financial situation of the person who dies.
4. Read and follow their Will
Reading the Will might seem too obvious to be included in a guide but the many different types of Wills can make it very confusing. You have to understand who has an interest in your loved one’s estate before you start giving things away or throwing items in the skip.
The reading of the Will happens soon after the funeral and it may include specific requests. For example, a mother might want her wedding and engagement rings to go to her eldest daughter.
5. Stop any ongoing services
To prevent any further debts mounting up it’s a good idea to cancel all ongoing services such as utilities, internet, and TV. To do this you’ll need a copy of the death certificate, unless your loved one has already authorised you to act on their behalf.
6. Sort out your loved one’s personal belongings
Sorting through your loved one’s personal possessions in death is possibly the most emotional aspect of cleaning out their home. For some people, it can be weeks or even months before they feel ready to face the task. The key is to stay organised. Start by making piles in categories, for example:
- Items to keep
- Items to donate
- Items to recycle
- Items to sell
- Items to get appraised by a professional
- Items to throw away
It’s best to work your way through the house, room by room, rather than trying to clean out the entire house in one go. Start with the places that are not so emotionally charged, for example, the garden shed or garage.
7. Contact the rest of the family
You’ll need to let the rest of the family know of your parent’s passing. They should be given the opportunity to claim what they want to keep. If your relatives generally get along and there haven’t been any major disagreements about the estate or the home cleanout process, you might choose to invite everyone to come at once.
However, if there are family tensions, bringing in smaller groups of relatives can make the process less stressful. Start with immediate family, then those relatives and friends they were closest to, and finally everyone else.
8. Get a property appraisal
There may be items in the property that are valuable such as paintings, old books, and china. Most people don’t have much of an idea when it comes to the value of certain items, so it helps to consult with a property appraisal expert to help you determine which items are valuable and worth selling.
Another option is to take the items to your local auction house for an expert valuation. If it turns out that your loved one had a lot of valuable possessions, you might be advised to organise an estate sale of these things.
People are often unaware that vintage electronics, clothing and accessories can have a surprisingly high value. It might be worth enlisting the help of someone who can check the internet for current prices of these items for you BEFORE bringing in a house clearance firm.
9. Renovate old furniture and other household items
There may be items of furniture or other household items that would be more valuable if they were renovated. Some of the items could be repurposed or recycled, rather than thrown away. Again, checking the internet can give you additional information about the value of different pieces, helping you decide what to do with them.
10. Donate items or throw a car boot sale
If there are items left over after everyone has made a claim, you could consider donating them to a charity. If you are a UK tax payer, completing a Gift Aid form as well means the charity can get an extra 25% of the value of your donation. They will let you know how much your donated items have raised. Your loved one may have had a charity that was close to their heart, and it’s very satisfying to know you’ve raised money for a good cause.
Alternatively, you could participate in a car boot sale and donate the money raised to a charity of your choice.
11. Check skip hire prices
If, after sorting through everything to be sold, giving to family, and donating to charity, you’ve still got a pile of stuff you don’t know what to do with, consider hiring a skip or a “man with a van” to haul away the unwanted items to your local household recycling centre.
Items such as old electrical appliances or garden tools may be recycled. It’s also important to check inside all cabinets, boxes and bags, because sometimes people hide their most valuable possessions away.
12. Say your final goodbye
An important part of cleaning out houses after the death of a loved one is learning how to work through your own grieving process. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for coping with these emotions. Be kind to yourself in whatever ways you can, don’t rush the process, allow yourself to take breaks as often as you need and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.
When someone you love passes away, it’s natural to seek ways to honour their memory. Remember your loved one with these 17 beautiful and meaningful ideas.