People often leave behind a house filled with items when they die.
People often live as if they can take their things with them when they die.
They are sorely mistaken.
All people leave behind their belongings when they die.
Each of them and each of their things.
Trust me on this.
According to a recent Augusta Free Press article titled “Can you empty a house before probate?,” often the loved ones they leave behind do not know what to do with all of the items.
They often wonder when they can begin clearing clutter from the home.
Not so fast.
Probate laws govern what can and cannot be done.
One pretty much universal law?
Tangible personal property items cannot be removed prior to the last will and testament being probated.
Depending on the complexity of the estate assets, probate can be a long and arduous process, especially for those who do not understand its nuances.
Ignorance can lead to common mistakes, pitfalls, fights, and litigation.
What should you know about probate?
It is the process of settling the estate of the decedent.
The decedent may have worked with an experienced estate planning attorney to create and organize the estate to make it more efficient and included living trusts, transfer-on-death accounts, and joint ownership.
If a last will and testament was created, it must be first found valid and the executor appointed.
The executor will then inventory assets and items in the home of the decedent.
Probate includes the legal appointment of the executor, who is designated in the lasts will with specific statutory responsibilities, to include ultimately distributing assets.
The executor also must take steps to secure and protect the home itself and the items inside.
Locks must be changed and insurance arranged.
Mail must be forwarded to the executor or trusted family members.
Bills and mortgages must be paid.
If these home is to be sold to provide an inheritance or to satisfy debts, then an independent appraiser should be brought in to asses the value of the home.
At the end of probate, assets are distributed according to the wishes of the decedent as outlined in the last will and testament.
Although some personal property in the home will hold little sentimental value to loved ones, some items may trigger family fights.
While it is important for the executor to approach these situations with care and compassion, the best way to minimize fights and negative emotions is to create a comprehensive estate plan that anticipates such contingencies.
Work with an experienced estate planning attorney who likely has seen it all.
Reference: Augusta Free Press (May 13, 2022) “Can you empty a house before probate?