10 Things to Do to Organize a Home Following a Death

photo by Andrew BaletIt’s a situation most people will experience at least once in a lifetime. An elderly parent or relative passes on, and the family must decide what to do with decades of collected memories, cherished treasures, and the all the other material possessions that accompany modern living. Whether you’ve been down this road before or have yet to face the prospect, there are a few things to consider when preparing to clean a home following a death. Before you begin the cleaning process, be sure to speak to an attorney or the executor of the will. This will ensure that you have the legal right to remove items from the premises, preventing disputes in the future. It can also help you plan a full cleaning. Make sure all important papers like deeds, titles, and insurance information are filed appropriately, and the most cherished heirlooms (jewelry, coins, are put away to be distributed later.

This list contains tips designed to help you strategize during this difficult and emotional time:

1.Involve the realtor from the start if you are planning to sell the home. If your family member died in the home, you may be required to disclose this fact to prospective buyers. Furthermore, they can provide direction on areas that need repair or special attention, which could save you valuable time and even money when planning a cleanup.

2. Consider health and safety first. If the deceased had a lasting illness, hoarded, or if the death went undiscovered for any length of time, hiring a professional death cleanup company like Aftermath Services is a good idea. Porous objects like furniture, books, and clothing can absorb odor and may be difficult to clean. Odors stem from the presence of bacteria, so unless the item is valuable, it may be best to throw it away.

3. Focus on what you plan to keep versus what you plan to get rid of. Divide items into one of three types: keep, donate, or throw away.  Make choices quickly and immediately separate the items in order to prevent confusion. During the initial stages of cleaning, leave anything you need to think on or consult with others about for later.

4. Keep in mind some common hiding places that are often overlooked: coat pockets, drawers, unused purses, and shoe boxes can unintentionally conceal important or valuable items. You will also want to double check storage areas in the home, including attics, basements, crawlspaces, and garages.

5. Consider hiring an estate sale company if your family has already taken everything they want and you are still left with a large number of items, save yourself time and . In this case you will not have to do anything else. Most companies will even arrange for the disposal or donation of items that remain after the sale.

However, if you plan to distribute the rest of the items yourself, there are a few more steps to the process:

6. Remove anything you plan to keep first. Make arrangements with relatives to either ship, store, or otherwise transport the things they want as well. This will prevent any confusion as the rest of the items are disposed of, and it may also help call attention to potential missing items that may have been overlooked. When Cousin Marge asks what happened to Aunt Sue’s doll collection or Uncle Bob’s class ring, it’s a lot easier to pull it from the donation pile than trying to track it down after it’s already left the home.

7. Throw out all worthless items such as broken furniture, odds and ends, old magazines and unwanted personal effects. Not only does this give you more space to work in, but when you are feeling overwhelmed, removing a large amount of what has accumulated can make the next step seem easier.

8. Be realistic about what you can sell versus what is better donated to charity. These items are useful to someone – but that someone isn’t you or anyone else in your family. This means recognizing not only what items are worth money, but also considering how long some things take to sell and whether it’s worth your time and energy to try and sell them.

9. What you do next depends on what you have remaining. If you have only a few items to sell, online markets like eBay are a good bet for smaller items like the single Coach purse or Grandma Ann’s fur coat, though it can take time to photograph and post each auction individually. Craigslist is the most widely used tool for larger items such as furniture and other household objects. At this stage, you may also consider a traditional garage sale.

10. Any remaining items can be donated to charity. Some groups, like Vietnam Veterans of America, will pick up the items at your home on your schedule. Smaller, local organizations may have neighborhood drop off centers. For items such as clothing, shoes, and books, convenient donation bins are another great way to go. Many donations are tax deductible, so be sure to retain any receipts for the estate’s records.

It’s an uncomfortable topic, but many feel that discussing a plan of action before a death occurs can help to reduce stress and allow the family time to focus on less material matters when the inevitable does occur. However you decide to proceed, remember there are companies like Aftermath who have made it their mission to help you through these challenges. To find out more about biohazard cleanup, check out our services page or call 877-872-4339 to schedule a cleanup today.