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Removing Items From a House After a Death

While losing a loved one is difficult, removing items from a house after death is a necessary step during a loss. Knowing what to do with a loved one's possessions can relieve the stress and effort during this time.

In this guide, Compare My Move will outline how to assess, sell and distribute possessions during a house clearance after a death.

How Long do you Have to Clear a House After Someone Dies?

There is no set time for when a house needs to be cleared. It is the responsibility of the deceased’s family to ensure all items are removed from the property. Once this is done, the house can be sold, with the proceeds then being distributed to all designated heirs.

Many families feel obliged to hurry since there may be deficits left by the deceased. With that in mind, we recommend setting a realistic target for when a house will be emptied.

Give yourself ample time to take account of possessions and assign which will stay and which will go. Since you’ll need to review an entire house’s contents, expect it to take at least several weeks.

Who Clears a House When Someone Dies?

The executor of the deceased’s estate handles the management of their assets. An executor is usually named in the will if there is one. If no one is named then it will be the responsibility of the deceased’s closest living relative.

Once an executor is established, they can distribute possessions assigned to loved ones in the deceased’s will or ‘letter of wishes’. They then decide which of the items not designated are sold, donated and retained.

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Can Personal Possessions be Distributed Before Probate?

Probate is the handling of a person’s property, possessions and funds in the event of their death.

In most cases, a grant of probate must be secured before any items can be sold or donated. This is because the individual’s estate remains in the hands of the court until a probate grant transfers responsibility to the applicant. Therefore, prized possessions must be kept until a new owner is designated.

Although you may not be able to do much with many items, you can still take inventory before probate is granted. If you feel up to the task, you can begin separating valued possessions from unnecessary clutter.

To learn more, read probate house clearance.

Getting Help From a House Clearance Provider

It’s no small matter dealing with a loved one’s personal belongings, especially when many will have emotional or sentimental value to you. This is where a professional house clearance company can be useful. These are firms that specialise in emptying a property’s contents - with deaths being one of the most common causes.

A house clearance company helps reduce effort and stress by removing items you don’t want to handle. Good house clearance firms will talk you through the whole process beforehand. They should then allow you time to gather heirlooms and valuables you’d like to distribute to the family.

If the deceased is responsible for paying, some valuables can be taken to pay for the clearance. In these cases, make sure to assign items of non-sentimental value.

For more information on how a house clearance company can help see: How Does House Clearance Work?

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How to Clear a House After a Death

Having a process in mind will help streamline an already difficult period. If you’re unsure how to proceed, we recommend the following steps following the funeral:


Get a new owner for any pets

Should the deceased have been a pet owner, this is the first thing to handle. Hopefully, a friend or family member will be happy to take ownership. If not, you should contact the RSPCA or an animal charity to seek a new home for the pet.


Secure the property

It’s essential to make sure the executor can gain entry to the property and that all the locks still work. If not all house keys are accounted for or don’t work, it may be best to change the locks to avoid unwanted entry.


Get rid of perishables

No one is going to want consumable items within the property, so start by emptying the fridge and freezer. Any plants or flowers inside the home can also be disposed of. Any fauna outside the property is counted under garden clearance, which is a separate service.


Compile documents and finances

If you are an executor, there are several items of paperwork that should be retained. These will help finalise the distribution of the deceased’s wealth:

  • Property deeds
  • Utility bills
  • Life insurance policy details
  • Stocks and bond certificates
  • State and private pension details
  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • Bank and credit card statements

Once these are accrued, you can estimate the deceased’s total wealth. This figure is needed figure when applying for a grant of probate.


Check if probate is needed/request probate

Probate is almost always needed before an individual’s assets can be allocated. The only circumstances where a grant of probate may not be required include:

  • When the property is already deeded to a surviving heir.
  • If the estate's total value is under the Inheritance Tax (IHT) threshold of £325,000.
  • If the deceased only had wealth in savings and not possessions.
  • When the deceased owned shares or had shared ownership of funds.
  • When the deceased had shared joint property ownership (or joint tenancy) of their land/house.

We always advise seeking legal help in cases like the above to double-check probate is still not required. You’ll need to check whether the estate’s total wealth qualifies for IHT. If it does, you’ll need to fill out an IHT400 and IHT421 form and file them with HMRC. You must then wait for 20 days before applying for probate.


Clear clutter

Whilst you’re waiting for probate, you can remove all unnecessary items you’re sure no one will want. Many keepsakes will still be meaningful to you, so be lenient when sifting through. If you can’t decide on whether an item would be wanted or not, set it aside and go through a second sorting at a later time.


Create an inventory

Though you may not be able to remove items from the house yet, you can compile all items inside. You can then separate them into those likely to be sold, donated or passed on.

We recommend putting aside several boxes for different item types and assigning a specific room to move valuables to. You can then work room-by-room to produce a clear summary of possessions. That way there’ll be less clutter when probate is confirmed.


Distribute, donate or recycle

Once probate is granted, you can begin the process of giving valuables to family members, friends and acquaintances. For items that aren’t specified, it’s down to you as executor to decide on the most appropriate course of action.

If no one wants certain valuables, you can opt to donate such things to local charities. Another option is to check what leftovers are suitable for recycling. Certain clearance companies can offer assistance with this, especially with electrical appliances.


Auction items

Anything valuable or collectable that isn’t passed is a great candidate for auction. Certain clearance companies offer to auction goods to help pay for their services.

Another option is to sell valuables to add to the deceased person’s estate. This can be taxing, but those willing to get a professional appraisal and find private buyers may find themselves well compensated for the effort.

To learn more, read how does house clearance work.

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Get a House Clearance Provider

Managing the loss of a loved one can be less of a load with the assistance of a trusted house clearance provider.

At Compare My Move, we can link you with as many of our 6 trusted partners. Fill out our clearance form to find the best businesses in your area. House clearance companies can also offer guidance on how to navigate what is an already exhausting experience.

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Written by

Last updated

21st May, 2024

Read time

6 minutes

Martha Lott

Written by

Senior Digital Content Executive

Having guest authored for many property websites, Martha now researches and writes articles for everything moving house related, from remortgages to conveyancing costs.

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