What about House Contents when Someone Dies?

What about House Contents when Someone Dies
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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.

Probate law does not allow anyone to take any contents from a loved one’s home after they die until the will has been probated. Learning about probate, what it entails, and how to prepare for it may make it a little easier when a family member dies, says a recent article in the Augusta Free Press titled “Can you empty a house before probate? 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 assets are distributed after the court has ruled the will valid and following the instructions in the will.

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

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.

The executor can accomplish specific tasks relating to the home and other property during probate. These tasks include changing the locks on the house to protect it from criminals and unauthorized people who have keys. The executor can forward the decedent’s mail to the executor or another family member’s address. 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 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 appraisal is needed if the house is to be sold, or the estate plan needs a valuation of the home.

Probate is often 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 it is a long and expensive process in others. 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 personal property in the home. Personal property with sentimental value often sparks more family fights than assets of greater value. 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?