If there is a Will, you should check it before starting to sort out personal possessions. The Will might instruct that particular items are passed on as gifts, or that all house contents are to be disposed of in a particular way e.g. sold to benefit a charity.
In the language of lawyers, personal possessions are known as chattels. If the person who died owned antique furniture, paintings or valuable jewellery it may be necessary for these items to be formally valued so that the forms for probate can be completed correctly. The valuations need to be for the date of death value, not replacement value as might be used for an insurance valuation. If any of these items are to be sold you will probably want to use specialist auctioneeers.
If a grant of probate or letters of administration are needed for the estate, even if there are no possessions that have a high individual value, an overall value will have to be given when completing the forms. If you are doing the estate administration yourself, this should be your best estimate of how much you might raise if you were to try to sell all the belongings, which might be through a sale room or even you taking belongings to a car boot sale.
You do not have to wait until probate is granted to deal with someone's chattels, especially if you need to clear a rented property or to prepare a property for sale. Do keep formal receipts for anything you sell, and a note of items that you have given to others or disposed of e.g. clothing given to charity shop.
There are companies that will do the whole job for you. Their details can be found under ‘House Clearance' in telephone directories. However, many families choose to do some or all of the sorting themselves. It can be difficult, but also comforting to distribute the person's possessions and personal items as they would have wanted.
If the deceased had collections of items or memorabilia that are not specifically allocated in the Will and are not wanted by family members or friends, it might be worth keeping the collection complete. You can arrange for an expert view on selling the items as a set. If the collection is valuable it may need to be formally valued for the purposes of Probate. Some items may be of interest to local museums and clothing, especially dress associated with particular professions or of particular eras may be of use to a local theatre company.
Electrical goods, such as washing machines and furniture, can be sold by local advertising if family members or friends do not need them or see below for donations to charity.
If someone has been taking care of a pet, you might need to find a permanent home for it. Please call us for details of local re-homing centres.
Local charities might be grateful for the donation of items of furniture, clothing and other possessions. These may be sold through their shops or re-used, e.g. to furnish a home for a homeless family.
If you are donating clothing to a charity shop it is often a good idea to take it to a shop some distance away from the immediate family, as it can be distressing to recognise someone else wearing clothing associated with the deceased.