How to List a Decedent's Household Property
7 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Marshalling Estate Assets
The executor of an estate is responsible for the decedent’s household items and personal property. Prepare a detailed inventory of all the personal and household items (excluding any that belong solely to the surviving spouse). This inventory is necessary to value the items for the probate inventory and the tax Form 706. Do not allow anyone to go through or remove any of the decedent’s property before you take inventory.
If the decedent has a surviving spouse, the personal and household items may be staying in place after the decedent’s death, except items the decedent specifically bequeaths (leaves by will) to others. If the decedent has no surviving spouse and the house needs to be dismantled, you still need to list and document everything and set aside anything of real value for later valuation.
Don’t allow relatives and friends to rummage through the house and remove items until you’ve listed and/or valued them. Consider collecting all outstanding house keys or changing the locks as soon as possible.
If you don’t get to the house until after someone has removed some items you’ll need to try your best to retrieve these items. Or you can value what you remember and charge that amount against that friend or relative’s eventual share of the estate.
Household items rarely have a correspondingly large cash value. Clothes, for example, are usually given to a local charity. Household furnishings that family and friends don’t latch onto either follow the same route or are disposed of in a yard sale or on eBay or Craigslist.
Of course, not all the personal and household effects are valueless. It is your job is to separate out the valuable items from the rest. You need to carefully check the furniture, the knickknacks, the dishes, etc., to determine if these objects could be valuable.
If you’re familiar with the contents of the house before taking inventory, you may want to obtain a recent valuation guide to gain some idea of the value of what you’re looking at. If you know that the house contains items of great value, consider bringing an antique dealer or auctioneer with you to help sort out what has value from what doesn’t.