Dissolving an estate means sorting through and distributing a lifetime’s worth of possessions. It’s no easy task, but where several beneficiaries may be involved, it becomes even more complicated. Having helped clients manage these situations, I offer some thoughts to guide you and your family through the process.
Most wills usually only specify a limited number of valuables. The rest is typically left for the executor of the estate to distribute among the heirs. It is not only items with monetary value that can cause disputes between family members, but also items of sentimental value.
Give yourself some time to make decisions
The process of dissolving an estate can be emotional. You will find cards your mother saved, precious pictures, and little pieces of history you wish you knew more about. These usually stir up memories of a loved one that will remind us of the depth of our loss. If at all possible, wait until you feel ready to make decisions. If you don’t have the luxury of time or are not located nearby, ask someone you trust to help you through the process.
Break the tasks down
If you think of the entire job of dissolving an estate, it’s overwhelming. Instead, break it down into categories and tackle each one separately. Devise a plan for photos, jewelry, clothing, furniture, artwork, etc. Decide on a time frame and agree on a fair method of distribution. You may need to get some items appraised. Most importantly, be sure the plan is communicated to everyone who has an interest.
Set aside what’s of value
Remember that one’s person’s trash is definitely another person’s treasure. Wait until all parties have expressed their interests before you start tossing. Once items of value to the beneficiaries are identified, the process of discarding and donating becomes much easier. You may be surprised to learn that family members are only interested in half or less of what’s in an estate. Consider a sale or donation to charity for items no one wants.
Managing a sale or donations
An estate sale is one option that can generate considerable cash. If you are unable to do the work, there are companies who manage the entire process for you. Organizing Coach Company can coordinate with vendors and charities to remove what you don’t want from the home. Donations to charity are deductible and may be easier to manage than a sale.
Treasuring what is now yours
Unfortunately, when you dissolve an estate your own basement or garage is likely to become filled with items of your parents that you wanted, but may not have a place for. With time in short supply, a professional organizer can help you make room for the new items. As time goes on, you may feel less of a need to keep things. You may come to realize that you can honor your Mom or Dad by finding someone else who would treasure those items.
Avoid placing everything in storage, putting off organizing for another day. Clutter is created as a result of postponed decisions. Think about how you would display some items or create something new as a special memory of your parent. For example, one family I know took pieces of their mother’s wedding gown and created a family ring bearer pillow and other mementos.
You will get through this difficult time. But until then, we can help you manage the difficult process of dissolving an estate. Our goal is to help you get your life back to normal, sooner rather than later.