Financial Education

Cleaning Out the House: When an Elderly Parent Dies

If you're the executor of your parents' estate – or even if you aren't – you may be charged with clearing out their personal belongings and/or getting their home ready for sale. This can be an emotionally difficult process, so don't rush it.

Step 1: Get Organized

Find the will and any other estate-planning documents. If your parents expressed their wishes regarding the distribution of personal property in writing, your task will be much easier.

Step 2: Start Sorting

Take inventory of all items in the home.Look in all cabinets, drawers, under the mattress, etc., especially if your parent was showing signs of mental decline. It's not unusual to find paperwork, cash, stock certificates or other valuables in a sock drawer or cookie jar. Then sort:

  1. Items to be distributed to family and/or friends. If your parents left no clear instructions, you may want to discuss with your siblings how to divide belongings in order to help avoid any ill will.
  2. Items to be sold. If these include art, antiques, jewelry, furniture and/or collectibles, consider consulting a professional appraiser. You may be able to find an appraiser in your area through the Appraisers Association of America at or the American Society of Appraisers at
  3. Items to be donated. For ordinary clothing and household goods, most charitable organizations will give you a receipt for a predetermined amount based on the number and type of items. If you are donating items of significant value, a professional appraisal may be necessary in order to receive a charitable tax deduction for the full value.
  4. Items to be discarded. This may be the most difficult task, as even insignificant items may evoke a memory. If necessary, enlist the help of a friend or a professional organizer who can be more objective.

Step 3: Hold a Sale

If you don't have much in your "to sell" pile, you may want to hold a simple garage sale. However, you may want to consider an estate sale handled by a professional if there is a significant amount of furniture, collectibles and other items of value. Estate sale professionals generally contract for a percentage of earnings from the sale, often about 25% to 35%. That may seem like a lot, but they will inventory, organize and price every item as well as publicize, hold the sale and process payments. They have no emotional attachment to the items and may have a better handle on the fair value of items to be sold. Look for licensed and insured estate sales firms online.

You Don't Need to Go It Alone

Sorting through a deceased parent's finances can be a difficult and emotional journey. At Chaco, we’ll help guide you the process. Call and talk with one of our New Account Specialists for more information at 513-785-3500.

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