How do I handle settling parents estate when there has been hoarding from step-mom, and not much interest to me?

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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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