What to do when you inherit your parents’ stuff

One of the most frustrating and somewhat overwhelming tasks an adult child will eventually have to come face to face with is the handling of their parents’ estate and all of its contents accumulated over a lifetime. Now we are not talking about a few years worth of pictures and cute chotchky’s. We are talking about mounds of things over the time of their life they have obtained.

No one wants to think about the future when our parents become ill or pass away. But let’s face it, being human comes with a 100% guaranteed expiration date. Sometimes these life events can take years to surface, and sometimes they can happen overnight. A plan that jumps into place as soon as it happens allows you to be better prepared and capable of alleviating some of the overwhelming.

By far, most adult children are catapulted into the world of handling an estate under the duress of a crisis. It happens more frequently than most people realize, and all it takes is for a parent to fall and break a hip or to pass away suddenly. Having those courageous conversations with your older loved ones in advance while they are still healthy and sound enough to do so is one of the most important things you can do. Decisions should be made in advance of any infirmity, and adult children should be given trusted guidance they can follow.

“Both of my parents have died sadly and both left a lot of stuff behind. I always knew my mom had a lot of clutter in the house but I did not realize the extent of it until she was gone, she was more than a pack rat I’d say a bit of a hoarder. They both saved a lot of paperwork and files, both kept tons of old tax records and papers from their parents who were long gone.

My mom died first so I had time coach my dad to start cleaning out his stuff at least. They both had storage lockers too, so much unnecessary stuff! After my brother, sister & I kept what we wanted, I did estate sales, donated to several charities, threw out the junk, there was plenty to go around. It took a ton of time and was exhausting.

I wish I could say there were shortcuts but I did not find many. There was good stuff mixed in with the crap, so I really did have to go through it all. I did not feel obligated to keep any of it but I am glad to have what I kept. I tell all my friends to have your parents tell you what is important and why it is meaningful to them while they are alive otherwise those stories will be lost. It would have been much more meaningful to go through it together.

Sell, Donate, and Recycle

When Jodi McCaffrey inherited her parents’ 2,300-square-foot home on the Jersey Shore, she was astonished to find it packed to the rafters:

“Both of my parents were collectors and repurposers: my mother collected art supplies (we inherited a large ceramics kiln, 2 potters wheels, 7 easels, countless tubes and jars of paint, glaze and stain, thousands of art history and instruction books, paintbrushes, canvases, frames, etc.), tea pots and ceramic unicorns, among other things. My father collected sports memorabilia (including hundreds of hockey and football books and magazines). They didn’t like throwing things out, so there are duplicate and triplicate of many items. For example, we found 12 pairs of work gloves, a bag with 6 mallets, 4 fish tanks. For awhile there were 11 beds in this house, including a Craftmatic adjustable bed from the 80s. Not to mention thousands of photographs and mementos…

We’ve emptied A LOT from the house through a variety of methods – estate sale, donations, “shopping” days with friends, Facebook selling, recycling, bulk trash, free on the curb, and probably other ways that I can’t remember!”

Luckily, the avenues for getting “rid” of excess  have grown almost as much as the number of things we own. Your options are endless – and like Jodi, you can exhaust every channel to start cutting down on possessions:

  • Contact a Certified Estate Specialist
  • Hold an estate tag sale
  • Give items to friends
  • Donate the items to charity
  • Sell items online channels like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Etsy, Amazon, eBay, etc.
  • Recycle
  • Host weekly Garage or Yard Sales (Maximum Two a Year)

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