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Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Day I Cleaned Out my Mother's Apartment

I recently came across an article from in which the author described the stress and challenges of dealing with her mother's household and personal goods after her mother's passing. Click here to read it.

One of the comments the author makes about distributing these items is "Dear Mom. If only your will had told me what to do with it all." She goes on to say that the standard phrase in the will of distributing all assets is really not helpful when it comes to cleaning out a deceased parent's home. I agree with her.

I know from experience that, as a general rule, the better the will, the easier the job of the executor is going to be. Many wills don't say anything at all about household items. When that is the case, the household items become part of the general residue of the estate. They must then be divided, along with all other assets of the estate, according to their dollar value.

What's the problem with that, you ask? The big problem is that the real value of personal and household goods is sentimental. In a majority of cases, the actual monetary value is unimportant, except for big-ticket items.  Most families find it difficult, if not impossible, to put dollar values on the salt shakers and end tables and dishes.

In my view, a will should address household and personal items separately from the residue of the estate. The will should give the executor instructions such as which people are to receive the items. Using words like "among my family" is pointless as everyone defines "my family" differently. The will should be more specific than that.

I also find that in most cases, allowing the beneficiaries to make a division that is based on mutual consent and not on dollar value is very useful. That way, if one of the kids wants a solid silver teapot and another wants only a handful of books, they can choose those things without having to compare the dollar value of their choices to everyone else's.

This kind of clause can be used in conjunction with a Memorandum of Personal Effects. The Memorandum is essentially a list of names and the specific items each of those people should receive from the estate. It should be coordinated with the will so that the will addresses the items not already given away in a Memorandum.

Given the number of estate fights that break out over personal items, and the number of executors wishing, as the author of the article did,  that he or she had better instructions, it's a good idea to get this part of your will right.


  1. Indeed !! Thankfully this was relatively stress free for me. My parent's will stated "distribute equally...if there was any disagreement between the 5 beneficiaries (all siblings) then a picking order of oldest to youngest would be used" they anticipated that things might not go so amicably. As I noted before I used social media to upload pics of all the major items and let the beneficiaries pre-claim items before the day of the clear out. My parents were in an apartment so there was an end date to their tenancy and I wanted to avoid having to get storage so I got a date that everyone was able to meet.

  2. I had just 4 days to vacate my mother & my stuff from a 4 bedroom house - had she given me specific details on who got what I would have had not time or ability to deal with such requests. Nice idea but in practise not always possible. Why 4 days? Well, mom was dying the the hospital and a social worker lied saying unless I moved her to a residence costing minimum $3,000.00 per month - she could not go to rehab. Panic to save mother's life I did what this rotten sadistic person said, and later found out it was all a lie. And this person is a government employee and no one cared that she was doing this to many families in Sudbury Hospital forcing them to quck sell to pay the exorbitant fees of residences they don't belong in in the first place. Welcome to humanity & justice in Ontario.


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