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Emptying the Nest, Part I

Every day baby boomers are facing the problem of what to do with a parent’s home and its contents when that parent dies or won’t be coming back to their home again. It is not just about getting a house in the right condition to sell but often involves family memories, family treasures, and family conflict or dysfunction. Depending on your situation, there may be a lot of work to do by yourself or in rare cases most everything tied up neatly and requiring little effort on the part of the owner’s designated agent.

A well maintained home with an absence of clutter and well ordered instructions is the exception rather than the rule. Far more often you will be facing a home that not only requires more than a new coat of interior paint but is packed with those things the owner chose to keep or at least not to give or throw away. This situation may be – and often is – complicated by the presence and interest of multiple persons who may not be able to work together or see eye to eye on things. What to do?

A first step is for the person who is in charge of the owner’s affairs, usually the holder of a power of attorney during the owner’s life or the personal representative following the owner’s death, to step up and take charge. Although there is nothing wrong with allowing discussion and seeking a consensus of opinion on what to do with a house and its contents, the ultimate responsibility will fall on the designated and authorized person. The assistance and advice of an attorney may be helpful in cases where there is real divisiveness or acrimony or even just some uncertainty on the part of the representative or power holder. You may also seek an appraisal of the home and, where relevant, contents of any significant value. These will be needed for figuring any tax consequences.

In Part II, we will take a look at the next steps in this process and how to make it simpler for you and your family. 

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