Dealing with personal belongings after a death

After someone you love passes away, you may find yourself putting off dealing with their personal belongings. You will likely have a great deal of other things to deal with at this time. It could be beneficial to wait until your emotions aren’t as high and you’ve had a chance to grieve. We hope you’ll find this guide helpful in understanding your options for managing someone’s personal belongings.

What should you do first?

You should firstly check if the person made a will. This will name one or more people responsible for dealing with the person’s belongings as part of their estate. We refer to these people as executors.

If there is no will, the rules of intestacy set out who can deal with the estate. Read our guide to the intestacy rules here for more information: Rules of intestacy

When you have located the will, the executors should read through it to check if there are any personal wishes. These wishes may include leaving any personal belongings to friends, family, charity or to anyone else.

Does everything need to be valued?

The need for valuations will typically depend on the item’s estimated value, the value of the estate, or whether anyone has been left the item.

For items you think are valuable, you should ask a local valuer to give you a probate valuation. If you check any contents insurance papers, you can see if any items are individually listed in the policy schedule. This is a good indication that you need to have an item valued.

If you’re sure items lack value and the estate won’t owe inheritance tax, estimate their total worth in probate documents.

You may be certain that there are no items of value, and the estate won’t need to pay inheritance tax. You will be able to include an estimate of the total value of the items in the probate papers.

For guidance on whether an estate is likely to be taxable, click here: Inheritance tax

As with assets held in this country, UK inheritance will be payable on overseas assets. There might be additional inheritance tax to pay in the country where the assets are located. Again, you should seek professional legal advice on this.

Giving personal belongings away

For items gifted in the Will, set them aside so that you can give them to the intended person.

While clearing belongings, resist giving items away. You should first confirm the estate’s ability to clear debts in case any items need to be sold.

The will may give the executors the option to give away personal belongings at their own discretion. Where this is the case, the executors are free to give these items to family, friends, charity, or even themselves.

Selling personal belongings

Once you have had any items valued, you can consider whether they can be sold by the estate. Firstly, you should check if the item you wish to sell has been left to anyone in the will. If not, you are free to sell the item. The money raised from the sale will form part of the estate and will pass to the people receiving a share of the remaining assets.

You may want to check if anyone close to your loved one wishes to buy an item, as it may hold some sentimental value for them. Online marketplaces or auction houses are quite often the quickest way of dealing with some items. This is ideal for items which still have a value, but are not worth enough to be professionally valued. You should keep a record of any items which you sell privately.

What should I do with any remaining personal belongings?

After you have gifted items in the will, or sold any valuables, there may still be many items leftover.

To save yourself from sorting through each item, you can ask a house clearance company to clear the property. You may find this the easiest way of dealing with anything leftover. Usually, these companies will charge a fee for arranging this, although you may find that a local charity will offer a similar service at little to no cost. Often, charities will take any items of interest as a charity donation. Charities will also usually clear any other items which they do not wish to keep. The charity will either recycle these items or throw them away.