Inheriting a house can be a financial gain in the long run. But immediately following the death of a loved one, managing the person’s estate is emotionally and physically taxing. You might have to take time off from work, and you could also be responsible for planning the funeral.
If the house is full of belongings (some valuable and some not so much), you might not know where to begin. Below are 12 things to do if you’ve inherited a house full of stuff to help get you started.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle both the emotional and technical aspects of their unfinished business without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
1. Recruit Friends and Family
You don’t have to go through the process of sorting through everything on your own. Family members who knew the deceased can help you decide what to keep and what to give away, sell, or throw out.
Friends and family members who didn’t know the person can be helpful, too. They offer an objective opinion about what’s valuable or not.
Recruit as many people as you can: the more hands you have helping out, the faster the process can go.
Tip: Make sure you and your family members and friends are on the same page. If you want more control over the situation, have them check with you before throwing things away or putting them in the donation pile.
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2. Follow Last Wishes
You might have inherited the house, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything inside is yours to keep.
You’ll need to read through the deceased person’s will and estate plan carefully and thoroughly. If there are any statements about charity or giving specific items to family members, you’ll need to carry out those wishes.
Tip: You don’t need to put a hold on the whole clean-out process to complete this step. Put the items aside in a separate area or a storage unit temporarily.
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3. Rent a Storage Unit
It can be a huge help to have somewhere to put things while you’re busy cleaning out the rest of the home. For this you have two options:
- Storage box or pod. If there’s room on or near the property, you can place a storage pod or box there. This route can make it easier to load items into storage without the use of a truck. Make sure you get a pod or box that’s large enough to hold everything.
- Storage unit. Alternatively, you can rent a storage unit in a local facility. These come in different sizes, and you can even rent more than one if you need to. The benefit of a storage facility is that the units are usually moisture- and temperature-controlled. You can also continue renting the space if you want to leave some things in storage longer-term.
Tip: Put any items you want to store for an extended time into the storage unit or box first. Put in anything you plan on giving away or taking out relatively soon last.
4. Choose What to Keep
Next, you’ll want to go through the home and choose the items you want to keep. If you have family members who also knew the deceased, you can let them do the same.
Make a pass through the house with a pad of Post-It Notes, marking each item you want to keep. You can also carry a cardboard box with you for smaller items, like jewelry and silverware.
Once that step is complete, go back around with a moving dolly and get friends or movers to help carry the larger items.
Tip: Go with your gut! This is your opportunity to grab anything that has emotional significance to you, or that you just plain like. Your loved one left these items to you, so don’t feel guilty about taking anything you want to keep.
Read our guide on cleaning out a parent's house after death for more tips.
5. Put Aside Important Documents
In addition to personal belongings and furniture, you’ll probably discover many documents all around the house. Some paperwork, like junk mail and shopping lists, can be tossed out if you so choose. But it’s essential to sort through all of the mail and sheets of paper you find to avoid throwing out anything important.
If you’ve inherited a house full of stuff, you might have also inherited the person’s estate, including financial accounts. You’re in charge of managing their affairs and tying up loose ends.
You’ll need a lot of official documentation to accomplish those tasks, so hold onto anything that looks important.
Tip: Go over which documents you should keep and for how long, here <[please link How Long to Keep Documents]. Learn how to store vital documents here <[please link How to Store Important Documents].
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6. Gather Up the Junk
Once you’ve removed any valuable items that stand out to you right off the bat, you can start hauling out the junk.
Grab some trash bags and a few cardboard boxes and start tossing all of the stuff that has little to no value. Broken items and things that are damaged can go. Keep in mind that you’ll be selling some things and donating others. Try to avoid tossing out anything that might be useful or valuable to someone else.
If you find large, broken items like furniture, place them outside where you can have them hauled away later on.
Tip: Don’t overthink it! If something first strikes you as junk, it probably is.
7. Get a Junk Hauler
Now that you have a big pile of trash, it’s time to get rid of it. This is one of the biggest steps, and it will take a massive weight off your shoulders.
It’s usually worthwhile to invest in a junk-hauler team who can come in and quickly sweep everything away in just an hour or so. Otherwise, gather up your friends (preferably one with a truck), and get ready to go to the local dump.
Tip: Don’t forget to recycle! If you hire a junk-hauler, ask them if they separate recyclables like glass and plastic bottles.
8. Host an Estate Sale
Once you’ve grabbed anything you want to keep and thrown out the junk, you’ll probably still have a lot of stuff. Luckily, that’s what estate sales are for.
Hosting an estate sale is a big responsibility, and it’s one of the steps that will take the most time and effort.
If you don’t care about earning money from the items you have left, you can skip this step and go straight to donating the goods. However, getting ready for an estate sale can give you the chance to go over all of the things you have left and take stock before sending all of it off in one go.
To prepare for an estate sale, start by cleaning and dusting the items. Write down an inventory of everything you have, along with how much you think everything’s worth, as you go.
Tip: Try not to get caught up with pricing items. The goal is to sell off as much as you can, as quickly as you can. If you can't decide between two prices, go with the lower of the two.
9. Make a Donation
The next big step you can take is making a mass donation. Research donation centers in your local region and choose the one that you like best. If you don’t have access to a truck, or you don’t want to deal with transporting items, find a donation center that offers free pick-up.
Donation centers can’t always accept everything, and they might throw away items if they don’t think they’ll sell. If you have a lot of junk to get rid of, you might want to select two or more donation centers and distribute the items evenly.
Tip: Calculate the value of everything you’re donating, and get a confirmation slip from the donation center. You can earn a deduction for charity donations on your taxes!
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10. Check the Nooks and Crannies
It’s essential to make sure you’ve found everything--especially if you’re planning to put the house on the market right away.
Check the attic and basement, and make sure you peek into every closet. You never know where your loved one may have been hiding a box of mementos.
Tip: Re-read the letter of instruction if you have one. The letter might include important information about keys and passwords for accessing rooms and safes.
11. Repeat Steps 6 and 9
You’ve hauled away the junk, put some stuff in storage, hosted an estate sale, and made a donation to your local center. But chances are, you’ve found at least a few things since then that you don’t want to hold onto.
That’s why one of the final steps in clearing out a house you inherited is repeating two of the previous steps: throwing away more junk and donating more stuff. You might also find other items that you want to keep.
Tip: Depending on the size of the home, you might need to make several rounds of donations as you go through the clearing-out process.
12. Clean the House
Finally, if you’re going to put the house on the market, you’ll need to clean it up. You can ask friends and family to help you scrub the walls, floors, and appliances, or you can hire a cleaning service.
If you’re keeping the home, it’s a good idea to give it a top-to-bottom cleaning anyway.
Tip: Don’t worry about cleaning up the house as you go through all of the other steps. It’s best to wait until everything’s cleared out and then clean the home in one go.
Inheriting a House is Stressful
Inheriting a house after someone passes away can be both a blessing and a curse. You might want to clean out the home as quickly as possible and put it on the market to avoid paying a mortgage or property taxes.
However, it’s also important to take all the time you need to process your loss. Recruit as many family members and friends as you can to help, and avoid taking on more than you can handle.
If you're looking for more information on what to do when downsizing, check out our guide on medical bills after death, what to do with mortgage statements, and how to help clean out your elderly parent's home.