Cleaning out an elderly parent’s house following their death can be emotionally, physically, and financially taxing, not to mention overwhelming. Suddenly, you may find yourself with a long list of to-dos, all with tight deadlines, when you are still reeling from the emotional loss. In many situations, there’s no time to delay, especially if you’re in a rush to get your late family member’s house ready to sell.
Before you embark on the emotional task of cleaning out your parent’s home, read our expert tips and helpful guide on cleaning out a deceased house.
Cleaning Out An Elderly Parent’s House
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #1: Give Yourself Time, But Don’t Delay The Process
There’s no way to make sorting through a loved one’s personal belongings easy. Of course, part of cleaning out a deceased estate is coming to terms with the loss and learning how to work through your grief. It’s essential to take your time and permit yourself to feel all the emotions along the way. Be kind to yourself and take as many breaks as you need. It’s all part of the grieving process and the journey to acceptance.
Cleaning out an elderly parent’s house can be both physically and emotionally taxing. But you don’t need to do it alone. Lean on your support system as much as you need, especially in the first few weeks. For instance, you might like to ask one family member to handle all the bills and financial documents. A different family member might be in charge of securing the property by updating the locks.
Fortunately, some professionals specialise in clearing deceased estates and can help ease the burden, saving you time, energy and stress during this emotionally difficult time.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #2: Find Beloved Pets A New Home
First things first: If your elderly loved one had a pet who now needs a new home, it’s important to take care of this early. Your loved one would want to know that their beloved companion is safe and in good hands.
This can be one of the most heartbreaking parts of cleaning out an elderly parent’s house. The best-case scenario is to find a friend or relative who is happy to take in the pet as their own. If you can’t find someone you know who is willing to provide the pet with a loving home, ask for help from the RSPCA or find a local animal shelter.
Ask the important questions and find a shelter where the pet will not be euthanised if a home is not found quickly. Before delivering the pet to the shelter, invest in flea drops, deworming and a bath to make sure the pet is clean, parasite-free and in good health. These small steps will give it the best chance to find a good home.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #3: Sort Out Their Paperwork
If you’re fortunate, your elderly loved one had all their paperwork neatly organised. When clearing your parent’s house, you may discover important documents filed away in drawers and filing cabinets, hidden in boxes under the bed, or saved as files on the computer. Here’s what to do with each:
- Birth certificates and passports: Keep.
- Recent bank statements: Keep. Carefully read all bank statements, and if you have financial accounts or bills to settle, get copies of your loved one’s death certificate to use for quick reference.
- Homeowner’s Insurance Policy: Keep the homeowner’s insurance policy effective until the day the home closes or sells.
- Medical and pharmacy bills: Keep.
- Will: Look for updated versions.
- Life Insurance Policy: Keep.
- Letters from friends: You may want to write to your elderly loved one’s friends to inform them of the news.
- Poems and letters written by the deceased: These writings can later bring you comfort.
- Bill receipts: Contact creditors. Notify credit reporting agencies to freeze any new charges or requests for credit.
- Stocks and bond certificates: Keep.
Pare these files down enough to fill a couple of file storage boxes and shred anything else that contains personal information that may be used to steal your loved one’s identity or commit fraud.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #4: Take A Look At The Will
If your loved one’s death was expected, you may be already acquainted with the contents of their will. But if their loss was sudden, it’s important to carefully read your loved one’s will before starting to clear the deceased estate. While many wills are uncomplicated, others are more complex and may require the counsel of a lawyer. If a lawyer is necessary, the executor of the will is in charge of choosing an attorney.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #5: Make A Realistic Assessment And Set Goals
Before you dive into cleaning out your parents’ home, it’s important to assess the magnitude of the project.
Step 1 – Determine approximately how many man-hours are necessary to complete the estate clearance. How much time do you have? Do you have a deadline to complete this work?
Often, DIY estate managers significantly underestimate the amount of work involved in a house cleanout. If you feel overwhelmed by the pure amount of ‘stuff’ or sorting you will need to do, it may be best to hire professional help.
Step 2 – Define success. What are your goals? Are you cleaning out the house with the intention of putting it on the market? If so, you’ll need to clear it as quickly as possible. The sooner you can sell the house, the lower the cost of carrying the property will be.
If your elderly loved one owned several high-value possessions, maybe your goal is to maximise the value of the house’s contents. Since you’ll need to sell valuable items individually to achieve the best price, this could take quite a bit longer. Sometimes, hiring an estate clearance service is the most cost-effective and emotionally easy way to handle the contents and preparation of a deceased estate for sale.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #6: Sort Your Loved One’s Belongings
This may be the most emotionally confronting aspect of cleaning out your loved one’s home. Many people take weeks or months before they feel ready to face this task. The key thing here is to stay organised; this is where professional help comes in handy.
Make piles by category. You may choose to tag items with colour-coded stickers:
- Items to keep
- Items to donate
- Items to recycle
- Items to sell
- Items to get appraised by a professional
- Items to throw away
We recommend working your way, room by room, rather than attempting to clean out the entire house in one go. If you’re feeling emotionally raw, start with easy places that are not emotionally charged, such as the garage, pantry or laundry. This will help you get into a rhythm with deciding which non-sentimental items belong where.
As you start to uncover more sentimental items, give yourself time to grieve and experience your feelings. If you feel conflicted about whether or not to part with something, we recommend keeping just a piece of it — for example, a single teacup or plate instead of a full china set. This allows you to keep items that remind you fondly of your loved one without taking on possessions you don’t truly have room for in your home. Resist the urge to hold onto objects purely out of obligation. If you won’t find a practical use for it and it doesn’t carry emotional meaning for you, it’s best to donate, sell or discard it.
If you think they will appreciate it, consider giving family and friends gifts of your loved one’s treasures.
Finally, if you suspect that art, antiques, jewellery or other items in your home may have significant value, it’s worth getting them professionally appraised.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #7: Invite Family To Claim What They Want To Keep
Start with the deceased’s immediate family and close friends. If your family members are on amicable terms, go ahead and invite everyone to claim what they want to keep on the same day. However, if there’s a risk that family tensions may flare up, it’s probably best to invite smaller groups of relatives, one at a time on different days.
Ask family members to explore the house and place post-it notes with their names on items they would like. Put family members who desire the same item in contact with one another, reminding them that they need to come to an agreement by the target date you have established to complete the house clearance. If family members quarrel about distribution, set aside the disputed items until all emotions have settled.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #8: Donate Any Unclaimed Items
The next step is to donate any leftovers to your loved one’s favourite charity and contact them to arrange a pickup. It may help you to know your loved one would appreciate this donation. If your relative lived in a care facility, it might be worth considering donating some of their belongings to the caregivers who developed a special relationship with your loved one.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #9: Hire A Skip Bin
If there are any leftover items to discard, rent a skip bin to remove what’s left. If the unclaimed furniture is old, worn and beyond repair, it’s best to dispose of it now.
This is the quickest, simplest way to finalise an estate clearance. If this feels overwhelming, remind yourself that these aren’t the items your loved one treasured.
Cleaning Out A House After A Loved One’s Death Step #10:
If you’re selling your loved one’s estate, the next step is to get the property in a market-ready condition:
- Give the home a thorough clean – Scrub the home from top to bottom. Clear away all cobwebs in the house and dust everything.
- Floor – Evaluate the condition of the floor. If there are timber floors hidden beneath the carpet, strip the carpet and refinish the timber. Replace any chipped or cracked floor tiles. Professionally clean, stain-treat and deodorise carpets.
- Appliances – Thoroughly clean and deodorise all appliances. Remove any that are unnecessary.
- Windows – Wash the windows and let as much natural light into the home as possible. If the window coverings look dated, remove them.
- Walls – Clean walls with warm water and an all-purpose cleaner. Patch any cracks in the ceiling or walls and repaint them in a neutral colour.
- Street appeal – Wash and freshen up your home’s exterior paint and tidy up the landscaping to ensure the property looks well-presented and welcoming to potential buyers.