Estate Property Planning
Estate Property Planning
Navigating the Steps for Estate Executors
by Sarah Campbell Drury
Vice President of Fine & Decorative Arts and Nashville General Manager
Right After a Loved One's Passing
1) Secure the valuables in the home – jewelry, sterling silver, and other known small valuables. Many relatives, friends, and strangers will likely be in the house in the days to come, and you may be distracted by decisions and emotions. Things can get stolen, lost, or inadvertently discarded. It may be best to move small valuables offsite. Safety deposit boxes at banks and trust companies are inexpensive to rent for a short time. Photograph anything you leave in a safety deposit box and make sure you know where the key is at all times.
2) Locate and secure important papers in one location (preferably, offsite, with the executor): all birth, marriage and death certificates, passwords, bank account information, etc.
3) Locate and secure keys to the house and storage areas.
4) Thieves watch obituaries, so make sure you set existing security systems (or consider installing one) and have someone keep an eye on the house, especially during the memorial services. (It’s disturbing how many accounts we have heard of homes being robbed during funerals, or valuables being taken or lost during wakes or other in-home memorial gatherings).
5) If a home contains too many valuable items to store offsite and will be vacant after the funeral, consider hiring a trusted person to house-sit or check in daily until the personal property is cleared.
6) Within a week of your loved one’s passing, throw out or give away all perishable food or anything that could attract pests.
7) Empty trash cans, but DO NOT THROW ANYTHING ELSE OUT at this stage. That means don’t dispose of clothes, shoes, and books just yet. Remember people of a certain age often hid cash and valuables in books, pockets, old purses, shoes, etc.
8) As soon as possible, take digital photos or a smartphone video of the inside of the house, especially if you live far away. These will be valuable for future reference, and throughout the process. They will be used to show estate attorneys and appraisers and faraway heirs, to make inventories or remind you of sizes of paintings, rugs etc. that you wish to bring back with you later, and to provide records of condition, etc. The photos do not necessarily have to be detailed. Room shots taken from the corners of every room are usually okay at this point. You may want to photograph cabinet contents. Don’t forget closets, the basement, and attic. Resist the temptation to start organizing or going through things as you photograph, and just concentrate on the pictures first. You should also photograph any items in offsite storage, such as a safety deposit box. We suggest taking a few photos of the exterior of the house as well as the yard.
9) It is never too soon to call a professional personal property advisor (such as an estate sale provider or auction/appraisal firm like Case Antiques). Most are so busy they book appointments weeks or months ahead; do not expect one to be available at a moment’s notice. Even if you don’t think you are “ready” for this step, it is good to make an initial contact by phone or email to find out consignment deadlines or when appointments may or may not be available. At the very least, these professionals may give you some valuable free advice to keep in mind as you go through the process.
10) If the house will be vacant, pull shades/drapes, and set the thermostat to reasonable temperatures before leaving. Don’t let the house get too cold or too hot in your absence, or else you may encounter burst pipes or cause damage to temperature-sensitive objects.
When It's Time to Start Going Through Things
1) First locate or buy plenty of light bulbs and flashlights for the house. Don’t assume the home already has them. You will need good lighting for everything about to take place.
2) Start with PAPERS. Look inside every drawer and file cabinet. This is hard to do when there are a lot of distracting objects around, but this step will pay off, we promise! Even if you don’t have time to organize all the papers, at least take an hour or so to acquaint yourself with which papers are where. Labeling drawers from the outside on sticky notes (such as “empty”, “bills”, “receipts” etc.) can save hours of re-work. In particular, look for receipts and past appraisals of art, antiques, jewelry and other valuables and collect these in an easily accessible place. They will help you, and others, understand the objects in the estate as you start dealing with property. Owners of significant art collections may have objects still on loan to institutions or in art storage. Pay special attention to any museum loan agreements or storage unit contracts, and if you think there may be valuable objects stored off-site, try to locate them.
3) As you go through paperwork, it will be tempting to throw away old documents at this point. We suggest not throwing anything away at this point, but especially if you find old papers, letters, newspapers or pamphlets dated 1865 or earlier, SAVE THEM. They almost certainly have some collectible value. Set them aside in one safe place, away from direct sunlight.
4) Before, during, or after you have gone through the papers, is the ideal time to have your initial meeting with a personal property professional such as Case. Topics to discuss may include valuations, best ways to sell or donate items that will not be kept, and advice on what to keep vs. throw away. Many estate professionals will not charge for a brief initial consultation if you have sent photos in advance and if the house is within a certain distance. If you live far away or would prefer, a virtual, ZOOM type appointment may be possible.
Meeting a Personal Property Professional
1) If consulting with an appraiser, be sure that appraiser is accredited by a credentialing not-for-profit organization. In most states, anyone can call themselves a personal property appraiser. But Accredited Appraisers have undergone professional education and testing in the type of property they appraise, and are bound by high ethical standards. Case has two nationally accredited appraisers on staff to serve you. Accredited appraisers can be searched by your location at www.isa-appraisers.org or www.appraisersassociation.org.
2) Auction Houses and Estate Sale Providers do not have credentialing organizations. So it is important to visit the company’s website, check google reviews, check references, and in the case of Auction Houses, look for designations such as the coveted Top Rated Seller status conferred by Liveauctioneers.com.
3) In advance of the home visit, identify all items you wish to ask about or point out (sticky notes are great for this), and if possible, make these objects easily accessible or provide photos. Provide a safe and well-lit environment. Open shades/drapes. Clear or point out any hazards such as icy steps. Secure any pets. The appraiser, estate sale provider or auction house representative will likely take photographs and may use a flash, which combined with the presence of a stranger can upset even normally friendly dogs.
4)Have ready a list of questions, along with information about any deadlines you must meet (such as when the house must be cleared or the estate closed), or important contact information for you or others handling the estate.
Sarah Campbell Drury is an accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers (ISA) at our Nashville Office practicing in the areas of fine art (paintings, prints, and sculpture), antiques, and residential contents. In her fifteen years of appraising, she has authored numerous articles on antiques and the art and antiques market for numerous publications, including The Magazine Antiques, Maine Antique Digest, Silver Magazine, and AntiqueWeek newspaper. She has lectured on art and antiques for numerous organizations including the Frist Art Museum, The Tennessee Historical Society, the TN Decorative Arts Symposium at Belmont University, and the University School of Nashville. Sarah has appraised for Public Television appraisal events across Tennessee, and for numerous private, corporate, and institutional clients.