What to Do With Inherited Belongings

Mar 24, 2020 | Guide

Becoming an heir to an estate often comes with mixed emotions. On one hand, friends and family members that are saddened by losing a loved one can take comfort in the belongings left behind. But in other cases (maybe for heirs that weren’t close to the deceased), it could seem like a lot of stuff that they now have to deal with. Professional organizer, Regina Lark, shared a statistic in the LA Times that the average household contains 300,000 items. This amount of stuff can be a big load to take on after someone passes away. And if you’re heir to the home of an avid collector of things (many many things in some cases), your job becomes exponentially challenging. 

What do you do with inherited belongings and random stuff? Who gets what? Where do you start? 

We’ve laid out some steps and tips to help guide you through this process, from reviewing the will to finding a system and resources to help you unpack the load.

1. Follow the Will or Intestate Succession Laws

Before you decide what to do with any belongings, refer to the deceased’s will (or the Executor of the will). Doing so will prevent throwing or giving items away that were supposed to be left to someone particular. If no will was provided, the estate will go through probate to appoint a personal administrator to ensure assets are distributed according to state law. Failure to comply with the will or intestate succession laws may result in civil and criminal actions. 

Always refer to the Executor of the will or the court-appointed personal administrator for guidance on how to handle belongings. You must receive express permission from the probate court judge or the Executor to take possession of any assets in question. Even if a distant family member or unfamiliar person is listed as an heir to a piece of art you gifted the deceased years ago and want back, you must abide by the will or the court’s orders.

2. Decide If You Need to Hire Experts to Assist 

Some inheritances are simple and straightforward. For instance, if the will is uncontested or you just inherited a few things, you can likely get by without the need of expert advice. However, if you’re dealing with a larger or more complicated inheritance that involves real estate, investments and high-value assets, you’ll probably want the help of an accountant. A CPA can help you determine what taxes you’ll need to pay on retirement accounts and/or real estate. Thankfully, Georgia doesn’t impose any state inheritance taxes.

An estate attorney comes in handy if you think the decedent’s will is going to be contested. Also, if you notice assets or belongings are missing, you may need a lawyer to initiate probate litigation to determine if a beneficiary stole them. Although stealing assets won’t disqualify a beneficiary from receiving their part of an inheritance, the court can make the beneficiary pay damages to the estate associated with the theft. Estate attorneys can also advise you when dealing with the decedent’s online accounts if you cannot access them.

3. Assess Outstanding Expenses

Before you start rummaging through belongings, take a look at any expenses you may have to plan for. Are you having to pay for funeral services, property taxes, court fees, executor fees, or hired help? When expenses add up, you’ll probably want to be more cautious when deciding what to throw away, give away, or sell. For instance, if you need to pay off funeral costs and court fees, you may want to host an estate sale to cover some of those expenses. But before you decide what to sell, you’ll want to check with the executor of the will to ensure you don’t sell off anything that is designated to an heir.

4. Seek Help from People You Can Trust

If you inherit a home with minimal belongings, you likely can handle it all on your own. But if you’re dealing with a hoarder home, or just a home filled with lots of stuff, you’ll likely need some help. Consider putting together a team of family members or friends that you can trust. Because every inch and pocket needs to be sifted through, you’ll benefit from having multiple hands to help. Make sure you clearly communicate the things you are looking for and a general idea of what to keep, sell, trash, recycle, or donate. Emphasize to the team that they should ask you about any items in question. 

5. Create Piles: Keep, Sell, Trash, Recycle, Donate

Where do you start? To ensure you check every inch of the home thoroughly while supervising your team, try tackling one room at a time. Designate a place in or around the house for each category of item: Trash, Keep, Sell, Recycle, and Donate. Here are some resources and pointers to help your clean out go smoother.

Trash:

For your designated trash area, may want to rent a dumpster. For bulk items you want to get rid of, like furniture or appliances, you can schedule a pickup with your neighborhood  trash service for a fee or call a junk removal service, like 1-800-GOT-JUNK. To get rid of junk cars, there are several options in Atlanta to remove or donate junk vehicles.

Keep:

Make sure your team knows what items or valuables they need to look out for, especially the ones that are earmarked for someone in the deceased’s will. Create a designated “For Keeps” area in the home where you can safely store any items you want to keep. For small items, like official documents and jewelry, place them in marked bins so you don’t lose them.

Sell: 

If you have time to devote to selling off some things (especially if you have additional costs to cover) you have a few options to make some extra cash. 

  • Estate Sale: Estate sale companies can evaluate any items worth selling, put together and manage a multi-day sale for you, and ultimately issue you a check when the sale has been completed. If you want a faster solution, estate liquidators can come to the home and make you a flat-fee offer to buy all of the personal belongings you want to get rid of. Some property investors in Atlanta will make a cash offer to buy your house as-is with everything in it that you don’t want.
  • Sell Online: There are tons of options to sell items online: eBay, Facebook, Nextdoor, Decluttr, OfferUp, LetGo, and PoshMark. Got lots of books to get rid of? Try Amazon or Cash4Books. But keep in mind you’ll need to factor in time to take pictures, post the photos and item descriptions, and schedule times to meet buyers.
  • Garage Sale: Good old-fashioned garage sales are still popular these days. Be sure to advertise your sale in your area with road signs and online using outlets, like Craig’s List, or neighborhood forums like NextDoor. The best time to host a garage sale is on weekend mornings.

Recycle

With a global effort to reduce waste, do your best to figure out which items can be recycled. You can start by checking with your local waste authority recycling guidelines. Waste Management in Atlanta rents out roll-off dumpsters to help with your clean up. Places like M&M Waste provide scrap metal dumpsters. If you have computers, appliances and electronics that you’d like to recycle, some electronics retailers and utility companies offer rebates for donating older appliances. You can also check with appliance manufacturers if they offer any take-back programs.

Donate:

There are a number of nonprofit organizations, thrift stores, and charities that will accept items such as clothing, furniture, housewares and toys. You can even schedule a pickup for large donations through ReStore, Atlanta Union Mission, St. Vincent de Paul, and American Kidney Services, among any others in Atlanta.

Lastly, if you are the Executor or court-appointed personal administrator, be sure to keep an accurate record of all sales and donations, which you may need to submit to the court. Creditors and beneficiaries might also request these records when inquiring about assets. When in doubt about any assets, always check with the Executor or court-appointed personal administrator for guidance.