Cleaning out the house of a deceased person

I’ve been thinking about this experience because of writing up
the summary for the IRS of what we sold and donated. There are
other good stories to tell, but here’s the email I sent to the
list of Bonnie’s friends about a month after she died:

Subject: [Bonnienews] deadlines

I have been officially appointed executrix of Bonnie’s estate, with
the power to sell things, and specifically real estate.

I am going to be signing an agreement with a realtor, who will be
hiring some men with a shovel and a truck to clean the place out,
starting Monday, July 7, three weeks from today.

If there’s anything in Bonnie’s house that you want to save from the
shovels, you must remove it before then.

As far as I know, I have already removed all the instruments. There
is a rumor of there being a set of handbells, and I think it’s
possible there are some small things like recorders and viol bows that
I haven’t found yet. I found a drawer full of double reeds, so if
there are more of those, it isn’t clear I need them. If you’re
helping clean out and find anything like a musical instrument or part
thereof, give it to me.

An antique dealer has looked at the house; he is buying a desk, and
giving us some assistance with getting two large items to an auction

There are a few items of possible antiquarian interest that I’d like
the dealer to see before I give them away. There’s a mantle clock,
some dolls that look older than Bonnie, a statue of a horse, the
family silver…

We have made major progress in finding and boxing the music. Some
music has been removed; there is still a corner full of boxes; there
are probably a few boxes not in that corner that we haven’t yet looked
at, but we’re on track to have found most of the music. We will need
to move it somewhere for further sorting. I have several volunteers
to help with this; if you also want to help with it, let me know.

The other obvious thing that would be a pity if it goes into the trash
is the collection of scholarly books. (Old English, Middle English,
Old Icelandic, Mediaeval History…) There are people who are
interested in sorting this and finding a destination for it; we may
still need help with transporting it to that destination.

Anything else that would be of use to you, you are welcome to. If you
have a way to take it somewhere and sell it, please do so. If you
make hundreds or thousands of dollars, it would be good if you would
deduct a commission (possibly a large one) and return the rest to the
estate, but if you make only 10’s of dollars, please keep it, and if
you like, donate some of it to a charity of which Bonnie would have

There is some fairly nice old furniture; there’s a small refrigerator
that works, there’s an upright freezer that works, several fans that
work, there are quite a lot of mystery novels and other books; there
are CD’s, DVD’s and video tapes; gardening equipment and supplies…

If you have young friends who are starting their first apartment and
don’t have all the stuff they need, you might consider seeing if they
want to spend a couple of hours helping out in exchange for everything
they want to snarf.

The clothes and the kitchen stuff can be put in bags and boxes and
donated. If you feel like helping with the bagging and boxing, the
assistance would be appreciated. Anything not in bags and boxes by
the deadline will be trashed.

Please note that I am asking for assistance, not advice. If I had a
year, I could take care of all of this, and everything useful would
get to someone who could use it and everything saleable would get put
up for sale. I don’t have a year; I have three weeks. So the things
that are important to me or to Bonnie’s friends who have time to help
will get taken care of, and the other things won’t.

All my life I’ve heard stories that start, “X had such a wonderful
collection of Y, but it disappeared when he died…” I now have more
sympathy with the executors who get blamed for the disappearance.
Some of them may not have tried as hard as I have to get the friends
and family to take care of the things they care about. But likely
they all tried a bit, and if the people telling the stories had said,
“Would you like me to come pack up the collection of Y and put it in a
safe place until you have time to deal with it?”, the collection would not
have been lost. So if you’re thinking of telling those stories about
the terrible executrix of Bonnie’s estate, think about asking to help
now, instead of telling the story later.

I will generally be there on Wednesday and Thursday, and other times
by appointment. Once you’ve seen the lay of the land, I can tell you
where the spare key is and you can go any time that’s convenient to
you, but the first time you go, you should have a guide (me or one of
the other people who’s been helping regularly) to where the sorted
piles are.

In the end, we didn’t end up hiring the men with the shovels —
the real estate agent found enough things wrong with the house
that she decided it should go to someone who wanted to do enough
work that some extra shoveling wouldn’t bother them. So we
actually had until the sale of the house in mid-September to clear
things out.

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