Can you empty a house before probate?

Junk Removal Advice:

Dealing with the death of a close family member or friend is never easy. In addition to grieving and mourning their passing, there’s often a mountain of legal issues to navigate.

One such issue is tackling the probate process. While it’s tempting to claim any items that you hold an emotional attachment to in order to make it through the grieving process, doing so before probate closes is unlawful. In most scenarios, no one is allowed to remove any items from the estate before probate.

Understanding probate will save you and your loved ones from many headaches associated with the estate clean-out process, from identifying the correct recipients named in the will, finding and distributing valuable items left behind, and whether you should contact a professional service to assist in the process.

What is Probate?

Probate is the first step in the process of legally distributing the deceased’s belongings after their passing. The court system monitors the proceedings in order to determine the validity of the will and to ensure that all named parties receive their rightful inheritance.

Most wills name an executor, or an individual responsible for carrying out the deceased’s wishes. However, not even the executor can remove items from the estate before the probate process is initiated. Your probate attorney will advise you based on your circumstances.

Be prepared for a lengthy legal process, as probate can take months or even years. It depends on the number of parties involved, the instructions left behind by the deceased, and your individual state’s laws.

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Can You Do Anything Before Probate?

The courts severely limit what can be done before the probate process is over, but there are a few important matters to handle.

In some cases, the courts may grant permission to clean up the area outside the home and remove any materials that may be hazardous to the community.

You should also continue paying any debts or financial obligations accrued by the deceased, including mortgage payments and home insurance. Missing these payments can complicate the probate process.

Lastly, you’ll want to change to locks on the house, especially if you’re named as the executor. As the executor, managing the estate is your responsibility, so you may be liable if anything is removed from the home before probate concludes.

Non-probate Property

While probate governs the process of asset distribution to rightful heirs, not all of the deceased’s assets are subject to it. Usually, these assets have a named beneficiary.

Living trusts: Most commonly, assets naming a trustee as the beneficiary skip probate. The named trustee is responsible for the distribution of these assets and the process is outlined by the trust.

Named beneficiaries: Pensions, IRAs, and life insurance policies often name a beneficiary should their owners pass away. These assets aren’t subject to probate and go directly to the named beneficiary.

Payable or transfer on death: Some properties like bank accounts, vehicle titles, and real estate have clauses naming individuals that the property is to be transferred to in the event of a death.

Joint Ownership: If a property is subject to survivorship rights, it’s automatically transferred to the living party. Many homeowners give their spouse survivorship rights so they can retain the house. In this case, the house is not subject to probate.

Probate Step-by-Step

Probate usually proceeds in a similar fashion, no matter where you’re located. It can be a long and arduous process for all involved, even if the deceased left a will. Expect this to take years before it’s finally finished.

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Step 1: Initiate Probate

Before items can be removed from the estate, the executor files a petition in probate court to prove that the will is indeed genuine. The court examines the will to ensure that it is valid, that it was signed under appropriate terms, and that all parties were of sound mind and free of outside influence.

Step 2: Notify Interested Parties

The next step is to send notices to all interested parties regarding the will. These can be people named in the will, their family members, and creditors.

In the case of an uncontested will, the executor will be charged with distributing the assets according to the will’s instructions. However, other heirs have the opportunity to contest the will, usually by filing a petition naming undue influence, which results in a probate judge hearing the case.

Creditors typically have a window of 6-9 months to stake a claim on outstanding debts belonging to the deceased. A judge may need to weigh in on the legitimacy of a claim or assist in selling any assets to pay the debt owed.

Step 3: Catalog Assets

The executor bears the responsibility of determining the value of the estate. This process can take time, as professional appraisal may be necessary in the case of high-value items like jewelry or financial assets.

This is one of the most important steps of the probate process, as the determination of the estate’s value is submitted to the court and all heirs named in the will. It ensures that all parties receive what they are legally entitled to.

Step 4: Administer Assets

Once the assets have been cataloged and all parties have been informed, the executor can begin carrying out the will’s instructions.

This step involves sending money to those named in the will, selling the house if instructed to do so by the will or court, and paying all owed taxes and debts.

Now is the time when you’re able to go and clean out the home. Undertaking this step is likely to be the most difficult and take the most time. Fortunately, you can always contract help. Many property removal companies can assist you in cleaning out the estate, distributing the items to the appropriate party, and in taking away any unwanted items.

Step 5: Closing the Estate

After all the estate has been administered, the executor files a petition to end the probate process. The estate is dissolved and becomes part of the public record.

Emptying the House After Probate

Removing items before probate? Once the court grants permission, the clean-out process can begin. This is often an emotionally draining time for anyone close to the deceased, so it’s helpful to develop a plan beforehand. This allows everyone the opportunity to claim what is rightfully theirs and makes sure that priceless items aren’t misplaced.

The first step is to find all of the deceased’s important documents. This can be anything ranging from mortgage paperwork and financial records to sentimental letters and photographs.

Set these aside so they aren’t misplaced during the cleaning. You’ll also want to shred and properly dispose of sensitive documents like social security cards.

Next, you’ll start organizing the deceased’s belongings. One tried and true organizational method is to separate all items into one of three piles: one to keep, one to donate, and one to throw in the trash.

This allows everyone the opportunity to settle any disagreements surrounding who should take what item from the estate, as well as remove some of the emotional burdens of going through a loved one’s belongings.

Finally, you’ll need to hire a professional appraiser to determine the value of items like jewelry and artwork. They’ll be able to tell you what you could sell and can even get you in contact with a liquidator to facilitate the sale.

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Hiring a Property Removal Company

Due to the emotionally trying and physically demanding nature of emptying a house after the probate process, it’s often necessary to hire a property removal company. These companies work closely with you and your legal team to remove all items, organize them for your convenience, and ensure you’re staying within the law as you empty the home.

These professionals are typically licensed and insured to perform this kind of work, so they can help guide you and your family through the process.

Benefits of a Property Removal Company

There are many benefits of hiring a property removal company, some of which may not even be immediately apparent.

Help the Process Move Quickly

Dealing with probate can take years, so anything that can help move the process along quickly will be a welcome benefit to the grieving family. Wrapping it up a fast as possible allows everyone to move forward.

It’s Often Hard Work

While going through old photos and reminiscing about good times is an important part of the cleaning process, removing heavy items like furniture and appliances is best left to the professionals. It’s more important that you spend this time with your loved ones, rather than performing rigorous labor. Property removal companies will bring teams of trained experts to carry out this demanding task.

They Know the Law

These companies work closely with lawyers and the courts, so they will be well-versed in all things pertaining to lawful property removal. They will follow the letter of the law to make sure you remain in compliance with all laws and regulations, allowing you to rest easy knowing you’re in capable hands.

They Can Aid in Distributing and Throwing Away Items

Removal companies can easily dispose of any unwanted items and even provide assistance when it comes to the logistics of distributing items to the heirs.

Gets the House Ready for Sale

In some cases, the home is to be sold when the cleaning out process concludes. These companies have the home in a ready-to-sell state much quicker than it would be had you decided to undertake the clean-out on your own.

Selling a House After Probate

Once the house is cleaned out, the house can be put on the market for sale. It’s not uncommon for the deceased’s family members to decide to sell their house, and they should be aware of any local laws and regulations pertaining to the sale.

In some states, it’s necessary to disclose the fact that an individual recently passed away in the home. California, South Dakota, and Alaska are all states that require such disclosure, even if the death was peaceful and natural.

However, if a potential buyer asks about the death, most states require you to tell them. You risk legal ramifications if you aren’t truthful.

Once you decide to sell the home, you’ll need to prepare it for sale. Call a real estate agent to start this process. Real estate agents can work with you directly, but you should get started cleaning up and perhaps updating certain areas of the home. Interview multiple real estate agents to find the right real estate agent for you.

You can also decide to sell the home in its current state. You might not get the most attractive offers, but it can help you avoid some sizable capital gains taxes. In the long run, it may prove more lucrative to sell it in this manner.

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All in all, dealing with the death of a loved one is a painful process. Not only are you left with processing the grief and getting accustomed to life without them, but you also have to find a way to properly distribute their belongings.

Therefore, probate is a necessary course. Though it’s a lengthy process, it ensures that everyone receives what is rightfully theirs. The courts exist to verify the will and meditate on any disputes surrounding the property.

Keep in mind that not all of the deceased’s property is subject to probate, so make sure that you receive any benefits naming you as the beneficiary.

When the time comes to clean out their estate, be ready for all the difficulties surrounding it. It helps to have a plan as you and your family work your way through their belongings. It will allow you to streamline the process and keep it from becoming overwhelmingly emotional.

As a final word of advice, consider hiring a property removal expert to aid you. Many junk removal companies are used to working with will executors, so they know exactly what to do. They can handle the logistics and heavy lifting so you can spend time with your loved ones and focus on what truly matters in times like these.

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