How to Dispose of Tangible Personal Property

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We have heard the time worn adage “One man’s treasures are another man’s junk.” Put more personally, when I have moved from one residence to another, I have always been surprised by boxes that are never unpacked, or by discovering household items in the back of cupboards that I have never used. What I thought were going to be precious indispensable artifacts get thrown into the last boxes packed and moved along with all of my other treasures.

But there comes a time when these accouterments of our lives need to be sorted through so that we can move on, either to a smaller residence, known as “downsizing,” or because we died and someone else has to distribute or dispose of these leftovers.

I am not talking here about the pathology of hoarding. That is for another blog, or reality TV. I want to suggest some tips for people who have capacity and are capable of taking charge of distributing the normal necessities of daily living that for one reason or another are no longer needed.

  • The first tip is to hire a professional. This can be an estate appraiser or someone certified as a professional organizer. This person has the virtue of not being a family member, as toe advice can be objective, and because you are paying for it, efficient. If there are valuables, such as antiques, artwork, collections or jewelry, an estate appraiser can provide a valuation so you know, and those to whom you might sell or give these items, also knows the appraised value. A professional will also suggest four or five categories into which you can put various items.
    The categories might include:
    -items to sell
    -items to give to certain family members
    -items to set aside for charities
    -items to send to the trash
    -if you are moving, items to take with you. If you are moving from a house to an apartment, the number of items in this last category is surprisingly small.

If the family needs or wants to be involved, or if they are having to disburse the items left in the house after a death or illness, hiring a professional can still be helpful. But without a professional, here are a few techniques that families can use for what can be an emotional process.

  • The most helpful technique is for the donor, who may now be deceased, to have made a list of particular items that are to be distributed to certain individuals. This can be done in a writing separate from a Will or Trust. It can be informal and does not need to be prepared by an attorney, or witnessed or notarized. It can be hand written or typed. There are no formality requirements.  And it is very helpful to the family, because it means that the direction about who gets what is clear and decisive.
  • As to items that are not on the list, family members can state in writing what items they would like to have. If more than one person wants the same item, flip a coin. As to all those items that no one wants in particular, but the family wants them to stay in the family, you can have everyone draw a number and then go around the group with each person having the right to choose one item each time his or her number comes up. All other items should be sold, given to charity, or sent to the trash.