You Herd It Here

Death and Storage: Dealing with an Estate After Death

By Martha Smith, Certified Self Storage Manager

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One of the greatest difficulties you will ever endure is the death of a loved one. Whether it’s a child, spouse, parent, sibling, grandparent or close friend, all are a very traumatic experience. It’s hard enough to face the sad fact that someone you love and care about is gone, but dealing with an estate after death can be extremely hard and stressful.

Part of the physical grieving process is dealing with the belongings of a loved one. And, it can be very much tied to the act of letting the person go. Everyone has their own way of dealing with this kind of loss. We are here to give you some helpful tips for dealing with an estate after death, whether at their home or in his or her storage unit.

Dealing with Emotional Attachment.

sorting through loved ones thingsDealing with an estate after death is about so much more than just sorting things into and out of boxes. Some people hold on to a loved one’s possessions because they are trying to hold on to that person the only way they still can. Others feel they want to immediately discard everything, trying to avoid going through the process of grieving and just move on as fast as possible. Some people may feel guilty getting rid of items they normally would discard, with the mindset that they’re letting the deceased person down by doing so. Before you do anything, maybe you should ask yourself what the items really mean to you and how you might feel emotionally to go through them one by one.

Identify Personal Possessions.

According to the Self Storage Association, almost 9 percent of U.S. households rent a storage unit, meaning your loved one may be one of them. If your loved one gave you a key and the gate code to their self storage unit and notified the property manager that you can have access at any time, simply go there and clear out the belongings. However, if they didn’t grant you access, you should not expect the property manager to automatically grant you access to the belongings.

A self storage property manager can’t and won’t take your word for it that you are the correct person who can claim the belongings, nor should they. The property manager has no way of knowing if two days later another family member will show up and say the same thing. Two of the most stressful events in life are marriage and death. It’s not the manager’s responsibility to get involved with family matters such as these, which is why we need legal proof of ownership or access. I’m sure you would be very upset if long lost cousin Joe showed up and cleaned everything out because we let him before you could make it here, and he was estranged from your loved one for years and had no right to their personal possessions.

dealing with estate attorneyIf the deceased person made a will, the executor would be given access to the contents of the self storage unit. If there is no will, you will likely need to go to probate court to get legal permission. The purpose of this court is to handle property and estate matters when there is no will to prove who should have access to those belongings.

Once the legal stuff is dealt with, you can choose to keep the storage unit and simply sign a new rental agreement so you don’t have to worry about clearing it out immediately. Otherwise you can remove all the contents and vacate the storage unit.

Taking Time to Heal.

It may be better to put off making a decision of what to do with the person’s belongings for a while. Give yourself some time to start and deal with the process. Doing so will help you to have no regrets about giving away or discarding certain items, then later wish you had kept some of them.

There’s no timeframe in determining when is the right time to start sorting through the possessions – it’s going to be different for everyone and every situation. Your great grandma who was 105 will be easier to deal with than your mom who was just 65. Regardless, try to give yourself at least a few weeks to process the loss before making major decisions about where belongings should go or to whom.

Also, give yourself time to actually go through your loved one’s things. By sorting gradually and spending small chunks of time over a few weeks or months will provide you the necessary time to process your emotions without tackling it all in one day. The act of going through these things will most likely surface memories and initiate feelings of sadness and grief. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a trusted friend or relative so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Using Self Storage.

Now that you have given yourself some time to heal, don’t push it off too long. Sometimes people avoid dealing with an estate after death for years so they can avoid the feelings of loss and sadness that will surely come up. If you avoid sifting through and disposing of a loved one’s possessions for an indefinite period of time, you could remain stuck in your grief and unable to move on with your life.

If you are unable to sort through the items or throw them away right now, but you need to get them out of your loved one’s home so it can be sold and the estate can be closed; you can move them to a self storage unit as a first step. Talk to our friendly property managers and they will happily help you figure out what size and type of self storage unit you need. Choosing self storage as a solution in this case will take the pressure off and allow you time to grieve. You can wait a few months and then slowly start digging through everything as you have time.

antique family heirloom furnitureA self storage unit can also be helpful if you want to keep some items after you have cleaned out your loved one’s home, but you don’t have room for them at your place. You can store family heirlooms that your kids may want some day as well, without worrying if they will be in your way or where you are going to put them until that day comes.

Death of a loved one is never easy, but it’s something we all have to deal with at some point. Choosing self storage as a solution to keeping your loved one’s possessions safe until you are ready to tackle them will bring your stress level down and provide you some much needed time to cope. If you have any questions about the storage process and dealing with an estate after death, talk to an estate attorney. And, if you are in need of a storage unit for your loved one’s belongings, you can contact us for more information, talk to any of our property managers or reserve or rent a storage unit online today.