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How to List a Decedent's Household Property

As executor, you’ll need to consider all the stuff you find in the decedent’s residence(s). Everything the decedent owned outright on his or her date of death is now under your care as executor; you’re responsible for making sure that you account for this stuff and that it ends up where it’s supposed to.

You need to prepare a detailed inventory of all the personal and household items (being sure not to include any that belonged solely to the surviving spouse). This inventory is necessary to put a value on the items for the probate inventory and the Form 706.

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 them, and if valuable, valued them. Seriously consider collecting all outstanding house keys immediately after the death or, even better, changing the locks as soon as is humanly possible.

And if you don’t get to the house until after Cousin Hester has emptied it with a moving van because she knew the decedent wanted her to have “a few special things,” you’ll need to try your best to either retrieve the items removed, or value what you remember and then charge that against Cousin Hester’s eventual share of the estate (if she has one).

Usually, going through the personal and household property is an exercise in clean up and clear out. For most people, these tangible items, though they have great sentimental value, rarely have a correspondingly large cash value. Clothes are usually given to a local charity, and household furnishings 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 intrinsically valueless, and your job is to separate out the wheat from the chaff. Just because something may not be your style doesn’t mean that it has no value; in fact, we’ve found that some of the most hideous pieces of furniture are among the most valuable!

Regardless of your personal opinion, you need to carefully check the furniture, the knickknacks, the dishes, what’s hiding in the attic and the cellar, and the garage. If you’re familiar with the contents of the house before inventorying what’s there, you may want to obtain a recent valuation guide to gain some idea of what you’re looking at and a rough idea of its value.

If you know before you go into the house that it contains items of great value, you may also want to consider bringing an antiques dealer or auctioneer with you to help sort out what has value from what doesn’t.

Make sure that you have witnesses with you when you inventory and dispose of the contents of the house. If you can, take huge numbers of pictures or videos of each room before you move anything, so that, should someone take it upon themselves to question what was there when you opened the door, you have visual proof as well as third-party confirmation.

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