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What do we do with belongings after someone dies?

Posted: September 19, 2022, 12:45PM

When we lose a loved one, we have to deal with the grief and at the same time, handle the funeral, settle the estate, take care of medical responsibilities, settle any insurance (life insurance, long-term care insurance, medical insurance), and liquidate possessions.  We may want to keep everything but that's not practical and it's really expensive to rent storage units.

When my parents died, I started sorting items.  Soon I was reminiscing about certain items and I knew I couldn't get rid of whatever it was.  It didn't take long to get a huge "keep" pile and a very short "go" pile.  Time to regroup.

It is suggested that we have keep, donate, and trash piles.  

Keepers may include tax records, retirement records, banking records, password logs, deeds, gas/oil agreements, health insurance records (keep the Explanations of Benefits as you may need to compare them to bills you receive after your loved one dies), and other business paperwork. You may want to get a box and stash these items separately for future reference.  Don't forget to label the box!

As a matter of fact, don't forget to label all your boxes.  You don't want to keep handling items because they are mixed together.  One source* recommends the OHIO rule - Only Handle It Once.

Photos, journals/diaries, family heirlooms or family records, and jewelry are also keepers.

Do you know someone who can make a quilt out of your loved one's shirts or pants?  A friend of my mom's made her a quilt out of my dad's favorite flannel shirts.  It's definitely a keeper.

Are there any items that a friend or family member may associate with your loved one?  Perhaps they'd like to have a keepsake.  Did your loved one mention that they'd like Cousin Janie to have an item?  Give it to Cousin Janie.

Donations can include clothing, scarves/gloves/hats, furniture, kitchen utensils, dishes, sweepers, or other items that can be recycled to needy homes.  Clothing can go to clothes closets, churches, Goodwill, or other charities.  Furniture can be donated to homeless shelters, organizations like Appalachian Outreach, or Free Stores for those in need.  Ask about charitable contribution forms for tax deductions.  Food can be donated to soup kitchens or blessing boxes.  (Don't forget to check 'use-by' dates and don't donate out-of-date food.)

Some stuff just needs to be thrown away.  Don't keep perishable or out-of-date food.  Toss clothing that is not in good shape.  Throw away used personal care items, open makeup, and open bathroom items.  Shoes with broken soles, socks with holes, and furniture that has paint all over it can all be tossed.  The old blackened cookie sheet probably needs to go.  The meat fork with the broken tine can also go.  Rule of thumb:  Don't donate what you wouldn't use.

You can also have a garage sale or go to a flea market.  Do you have the energy and time to do this?

Another tip I wished I'd listened to:  don't make any major decisions for a while.  Give yourself time to "absorb" the grief and adjust (at least for now - grief is different for everyone and everyone's grief is personal).

Talk to the attorney handling the estate.  What are your obligations?  When can you make decisions about liquidating?  There are heirs to consider as well as outstanding obligations.

This is such a hard task. So many memories come back.  Some good.  Some not so good.  This is a sort of rite of passage. 

We don't dishonor our loved ones by letting go. Our loved one's possessions don't define our relationships, the memories do.


Sources:  *Cleaning Out a Deceased Loved One's Closet,, Gloria Horsley, Contributor, 12/30/14;

Dealing with a Deceased Loved One's Belongings.  Tips to Make it Easier, Jude Morton, June 6,




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