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My in-laws had a bit of a hoarding problem - not as bad as one sees on TV though. My step-sisters live close to parents' home (my father/step-mother) where I live an hour away. Step-sisters see no reason to have to close the house up in what I think is a timely fashion (OK with them if it takes a year). There isn't much in the way of personal things that I'm interested in as most of the stuff belonged to my step-mother. What are my obligations? Once step-sisters decide what they want, I will be glad to help get rid of remaining things. Suggestions, please.

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When we did my parent's estate sale, the estate sale people arranged to have some charities pick up things that were left over, but also I ended up rescuing some "treasures" from the trash (they were not supposed to throw stuff out without checking with me because I judged I had already pulled out all the trash...but, there was A LOT of stuff). I mistakenly thought we'd get a more substantial amount of money that would help pay for care than we did (mom was still alive at the time, but I could no longer pretend she would ever be able to go back home on her own and I had made the decision not to move in...that's another story though.) So I left all the good stuff and just stashed a small pile of sentimental junk for me to transport later. It turns out a lot of things like electric organs, console TV sets, etc. just do not hold their value or have any value beyond the person enjoying them for as many years as they can. And generally things sell at not much more than regular rummage sale prices. I would wanted to have done some things very differently if I had known, but I had never even gone to an estate sale, let alone had to decide on one and organize anything for it. You may want to go to a couple if you've never been to any.

Even when it was all over, when both Mom and Dad had passed, it was important to me not to just throw things away that had belonged to them, so, trying very hard NOT to be a hoarder, I made quite a few runs to local charities, equipment loan closets, and even church rummage sales with various things, in both their town and mine. Also another option to consider is to see if there is an active Freecycle.org group near you - there was even a story from one family that bascially offered the whole house full for freecyclers on a day the pre-advertised, and they reportedly cleaned it out really well, including leftover scraps of wood, etc.

It was a lot a lot of work even with using an estate sale company. I felt guilty about doing that, because so many people do it all themselves, but there was no way I could have done private e-bay or local sales of things even though it would have given me more control and possibly raised more money. I helped my cousin a little with her mom's house - Aunt L. WAS a full-fledged hoarder and it was really awful, but she tackled it a bit at a time and got lots of help from family and friends, and now has the house for herself and has made it very livable and nice. She prioritized getting mouse droppings and trash out, and freeing up enough space in one bedroom to actually live there, but even had to space that out and get neighbors to let her give them a few bags each, because they will only take so many bags per person per week. Then, getting broken appliances fixed, new carpet and painting were next. I think she was blessed to be on hiatus between ministry jobs at the time.

When it came to the papers, I found my mom had kept all 50+ years' worth of quite a few things, and I darn near wore out a small shredder I took with me on one of my last trips. Most of the time there were big bunches of things semi-organized that you could tell could be shredded and I did not have to handle every single item individually. There were a lot of paper recycle bins at churches and schools that could take it all so that helped too. You may want to plan to spend a little time handling that too though, there can be a few "treasures" mixed in with that as well...my cousin found some neat things that my dad and my uncle had corresponded on and gave them to me, which my mom had just thrown out his half of, and it meant a lot. I think some of the time processing the stuff can be a little therapuetic, because sometimes stuff = memories. I needed that more than I want to admit! There is another book out called "Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash-A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize" that helped me quite a bit too.
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I am confused because you say they were your in laws and then refer to your stepsisters.
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Happyjack,
Your post brought tears to my eyes....
I have been cleaning out my parents house going on 2 years. Another year was just an endless number of contractors after two radiators burst.
My sister lives in another state and she has my Mom with her so I can finish the house (really it is so I can do all the hard work and she doesn't have to deal with the painful emotions). I am so tired of the responsibility and I don't know if it will ever end.
It is odd that a house that moves me to tears of sadness from bad memories can also feel like a place I want to be at the same time.
I have promised my daughter that I will NEVER do this to her. I have a one year plan and I am going to have my parents house sold and my house cleaned out of the junk that accumulates on its own....ok I am a bit of a holder on to things like every dance costume and prom dress my daughter wore...and her baby swing and crib, (hoarder) and get my financial affairs, health insurance, trust, et al, in one binder and hand it over to my daughter. It will be a weight lifting moment!
My Dad was a vet so the AmVets are frequent visitors to the house. They will take just about anything and the money goes to the vets. They pick up so it saves me a lot of trips!
I ask people all the time, do you want a piece of Westmoreland glass or Blenko glass, how about some huge hideous lamps!
I am sorry you are going through this process and your post has helped me because I don't feel so horribly alone and the suggestions were great.
I am considering starting a service that can help others who are facing a house full of someone else's stuff. It will be a free service more like a support group. Being alone is terrifying and overwhelming.
Hang in there and take a look around, you have one SO MUCH work!
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Happyjack, With 3 executors, hopefully you will be able to divide the duties according to each of your best strengths. Who is good at dealing with the administrative paperwork and professional advisors, who is good at sorting/tagging furniture and personal property, dealing with insurance co., creditors, realtors, etc? Hiring someone to conduct an estate sale is a good idea if you can afford it and it will probably help the house sell faster as Campyone mentioned. A few years ago, I was hired to handle all the paperwork for a friend of mine who lived overseas and needed to settle his Mom's estate here in the U.S. He was a very professional executor, and literally orchestrated everyone and their duties via email (although he did come stateside several times to deal with the lawyer and physical duties at the house). It worked out beautifully because no matter who was writing the email, we had a list of all concerned parties that were always CC'd in every email, so that everyone was always on the same page and kept up-to-date with all the proceedings. As for the house being vacant, there is a limit to how long the property insurance company will continue to insure the house in it's vacant state. You will probably have to purchase new insurance for the vacant house and it is more expensive - due to the vandalism exposure as well as fire, as Ferris1 mentioned. So you 3 sisters need to get the house emptied and sold as soon as possible - don't drag it out. You did not mention Mom's bank account - have you closed and registered it in the name of the estate? Any monies coming into the estate from sale of personal property or the house sale has to go into that account, same as expenditures to effect the sale of house. If you do need to use any of your own money to do repairs or hiring people, you can reimburse yourself from the estate monies after the house is sold and the estate is settled. Hopefully you have an estate lawyer and accountant by now, and they can advise you more specifically. I'm just mentioning what I recall from my experience assisting my executor friend.
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Soozi, its horrendous to empty out and plan to sell your childhood home. Even if the logistics were a piece of cake, it just tears you up. Like losing your parents all over again, or worse somehow...I feel guilty admitting this, but sometimes just remembering the house and knowing it is not theirs/ours or like it used to be any more, makes my heart ache as bad as or worse than the way I still miss my mom and dad.
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Whirlpool, If I had a daughter, I would think I was your mother! You just described me! (although I do open the important mail but tend to set aside the junk mail instead of tossing it). My rationale is that I need to shred every piece of paper that bears my name address, acct #'s etc. So I put that stuff aside to shred 'later', and later is unfortunately a long time coming. I'm coming up on 64, had to sort through a good deal of paperwork for my mother when we gave up her apt to go into NH, and now I'm thinking how I dread leaving my son in a worse paper jungle than I had to deal with for my Mom. I've been trying very hard to do some of this purging every week, and I have a storage locker to go through as well. I'm really trying to toss/unload/sell as much as I can because truth is I don't need everything anymore. Unfortunately you do have to go through all the boxes to find anything that might be significant or of sentimental value, such as uncashed bonds, financial records, vital documents, insurance policies, maybe a will, house deed, family photos, etc. I would suggest that if your Mom refuses to cooperate and do this with you, wait until she is asleep or out of the house, go through a few boxes, take home what is important, and then throw out what is garbage. If you think she will notice the missing boxes, leave them there but mark them so you know you which ones you already went through. I would probably keep the important things in my home just so they don't get misplaced again in her house. If she will cooperate with you, I would either file the important records or put them in a box marked "vital docs". If she does not have a Safe Deposit Box at the bank, I would go with her to set one up in both your names, so you will have no trouble getting into it when she passes. The rest of the stuff like paid bills and tax records, I would have individual boxes marked with 2013, 2012, on the outside of the box. I hope these suggestions are helpful.
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I worry what I will do when my mother passes as she hoards mail (among other things) and has boxes and boxes of unfiled or sorted mail though she does manage to pay her bills. Any suggestions on how one deals with a huge volume of paperwork that could have important things in it so it can't just be thrown out?
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I was asked to say more about my #3 Statement.
When I am doing an estate sale I can have up to as many as 2000 people come thru the home.
The exposure your home gets can be priceless, I ve never had a sale where I wasn't asked is home going to be for sale or is it going to be rented. So get an agent or get your listing done have flyer in home with info on property, yu willbe surprised at the response.
P.S. Sorry you estate sale person did not show, but take that as a big RED FLAG. find another ask for buisness license, bonded, references.
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This could be a fire hazard house. Call your local environmental or fire marshal to come in and inspect the house. Sorry for your loss...
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Thank you all for your input.....much appreciated! One of my concerns is that the house is in an older neighborhood and just a block or two from major shopping. There has been some gang activity in the area and once word gets out that the house is vacant, who knows what might happen, and the longer it's vacant the more opportunity for vandalism, etc. I and my 2 step-sisters are all executors so no one is in charge.

I realize that this will be a terribly emotional process especially for my younger step-sister as she is the "emotional" type anyway. This is the house that they grew up in so there's that aspect to add to the situation. Just want this to go as smoothly as possible with as few ruffled feathers as possible. I don't want to "not" do my part and know that it is a terribly difficult process to have to do but dragging it out doesn't seem right either.

And, Snoozi, I am in total agreement with you......I will NOT do this to my kids. The time is coming where I won't have the physical stamina to go through everything and then one can get complacent and say too bad.
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Are you the executor? If so, I would give them a time line and let them know how this is happening. It's difficult to be firm but unfortunately, things never will get wrapped up to anyone's satisfaction unless someone takes the lead. Hopefully when they designated you Executor they knew you were the one who could do that. Let them tag what they want and hire an estate sale company. Take deep cleansing breaths augmented with plenty of wine, as needed. God bless!
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What GREAT information. Thank you cdeh61... I heading to the book store right now. The estate sales person who I booked an appointment didn’t show up today.

So, I spent 3 hours cleaning ... so the realestate photographer can come to take pictures and nobody cares... boo hoo! This is how I’m spending my life. I am looking forward to reading those books for ... HELP!!

Also, Campyone... thank you too! Can you please say more about #3. I don’t really understand it, but I have a feeling it’s key!

Thank you both! ... and yikes. This can NOT take 4 years.... can it? Really? Oh my gosh!

Yes, I did some good things while my Mom was alive, but not enough. I have a list of things I’d recommend, but not for this question. We should all probably get together and write a book. The thing is... I really don’t think I would have payed attention back then. I had no idea how important some things were and other things... not important at all.

The big lesson, get rid of things so my kids don’t have to deal with this... and go out and live life beautifully, because all of a sudden... it’s over!

Thanks again dear friends...
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May I suggest 2 books I've just finished reading:
The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents' Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff by Julie Hall
Sell, Keep, or Toss?: How to Downsize a Home, Settle an Estate, and Appraise Personal Property by Harry Rinker
The first deals with more of issues of dividing items among family members, dealing with the emotions and in-fighting, but also how to organizing the process.
The second has very practical info on the how of getting rid of things from auctions house to the scrap yard.
Both are easy and quick reads. I'm fortunate (and yes, not so fortunate) to be an "only" so have no issues of who to divide things with. But also have a Mom who is a "collector" (read high-end hoarder) and will have a house full of items to dispose of. I'm trying to be proactive and learn about how to deal with all this stuff before my folks are gone, but at 92 & 94, I know I need to prepare now! Good Luck!
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As the owner of an Estate Sale company in Calif. I would first like to say that some people do not think that this is an emotional process to go thru. But it most certainley is, it is like the last and most final thing. You are closing the door on what may have been a childhood home, it is the last physical thread to the person you've lost. with that being said here are some of my suggestions.

1. set some boundries and let others know what will be expected of them.
such as amount of items to be taken how work load will be spread
between everyone. THIS IS THE HARDEST PART.

2. Hire a professional, to do the work, such as an estate sale, or auction
company it will be well worth every penny. They will have a customer base
and can normally sells down to the bare walls. With my company I offer a
clean up crew to come in and broom sweep home after removing trash
and anything leftover from sale. THERE IS $$MONEY$$ that can be made
that can help.

3. If the home is to be sold or rented having listing ready before sale/auction
as the number of people attending will out number any that an open house
will produce.

4. Stay strong, as no matter how hard you try someone will be unhappy. It
will be over something small, but remember it probadly has to do with
the loss of someone much more them the loss of something material.
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Soozi - great post!

Been executrix twice and 1 aunt was the closets of filled with paperwork shoe boxes with rubber bands around them type. Large house with stuff: 1/3 worthy of auction house; 1/3 garage sale or Goodwill and 1/3 garbage. Estate had complications and I ran it out the full 4 years for probate. Yeah 4 years but if you have the time - whether it's 1 year or 4 - that alone can help as everybody grieves differently and everybody GREEDS differently. Gives folks time to have a more balanced perspective of value.

The biggest mistakes I made was assuming that you need to look through stuff in detail and not getting a serious heavy duty shredder. The best thing done was I did get a 3rd party to do a walk through from an auction house and they did a list of what they would take to auction and likely realize at sale. I passed the list out and made it clear that if they wanted anything they would need to pay 1/3 of the estimated auction price to not have it go to auction. Only 1 family member did this happily and bought over a dz pieces (some really great Eastlake stuff). If I had to do this again, I'd go find a "picker" to do it instead - everytown has those antique malls, where it's an enclosed building and mini showrooms of stuff - I'd approach a couple of the owners of a show/salesroom that looks like what's at the in-laws house and have them come to the house to do the walk though instead. No matter what you do there is always somebody who is going to be unhappy with decisions made - you do the best you can as executrix and just remind yourself there was a reason you were named and they weren't.
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Set dates with them when you will meet to talk.

When I did this, I walked around the house and made an excel spread sheet of the contents of each room (big items...furniture, paintings, carpets, etc.). My brother (maybe like you) said he wanted one small painting, Nothing else!

My sister and I have met twice to go through the things.

Very important to set your expectations with each other at the beginning. After some nastiness... I started the next meeting by saying, 'this is a very emotional process and I am going to try to be as kind and loving as I can throughout.' That caused my sister to apologize and agree to try to be kind too. It had been awful with all the weird things that came out of the past.

We got down to business. My mom was NOT a pack rat. She had no magazines or mail hanging around and paid the very last bill that arrived at the house the day before she passed away. However, there is an amazing amount of stuff that accumulates. We forgot about the wall of cook books and sewing items. Who sews anymore? We made our wedding dresses... YIKES!

Then I realized, months into the process that even though my brother didn't want anything... he didn't do anything to help with ALL the work that needed to be done. So, first I asked him to consider paying me... bad idea. He got mad and offered peanuts for a TON of work. So, I said let's all help. He arrives in May to stay there for 3 weeks... finally, after months, and months of work that I've done. He will get a dumpster and clean out the stuff that is left.... and there will be lots of stuff.

Circle back to this week. I am going there to meet with three people. The first will tell me how she can run a tag sale for us.

Then one tomorrow will tell us how he will bring in 4 people to bid on the contents of the house.

The third will tell us how he will take the few things of value and auction them.

The bottom line is we have rooms of furniture, dishes, cook ware, garden things and sheets, blankets, towels... and this is AFTER I already took all her clothes to Goodwill. I will bring a lot more to donate as well.

It's a complicated process. There is more than I ever thought. Little me has been working at Donating, Selling, Discarding things for the last 6 months and there is still A LOT there... even After my sister and I have taken everything we want to save for memories (remember the size of your homes). I brought a few things home and realized that I just don't have the space.... in the long run, my brother is right. We don't need almost anything. We brought things back to the house, realizing that the things should be donated, sold or given away.

Help any way you can. Ask for less than you think you can handle in your house... just a few small things you really need or want. Start every meeting by saying you know that it will be an emotional process and you will try your very best to be kind and loving throughout.

It is longer and more complicated than I ever imagined. It brings up emotions... when prospective purchasers of the house walked through yesterday, I cried. I don't know why...

I hope my saga has helped you. I wish I had known what I was getting into 6 months ago, but even if someone told me I would not have believed it I think. I thought I knew the house was clean and easy. It's not... but one day it will all be done.

I had hoped to be done in 3 months. It is 6 months. We have to remediate pulling out an oil tank from the ground and have to re-build the septic field before it will be sold. Getting estimates, getting along with siblings, doing all the details, keeping the lights paid... it's taking all my time. One day it will all be over and I will go on a long, long walk in the sun. :-)

My very best wishes to you on this journey. As my Dad always said, if you are complaining about paying taxes... that must mean you are being paid... be happy. So, as I complain about my Mom's things... I have to remember to be happy that I have a house and siblings and I need to NOT complain about it, but to be thankful ... and kind.
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I would have step-sisters go in and tag everything that they want ... you and any others who are entitled to go through their belongings do the same. Then hire someone to come pick up everything else. If the step sisters want to take forever to get their possessions out ... let them. Are you putting the house up for sale? Let the realtor show it with their tagged items still sitting there. Also, they may feel that this is the only way that they can remain close to their mom so it may take them some time to work through their feelings.
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