Rush Job

You’ve inherited a house full of Stuff. It’s far away. Your job can’t spare you for long and you’re looking after your elderly mother-in-law. What to do?

Smith_Antiques_Sav_014-reducedUse an estate appraiser and auction off the bulk of the estate. Contact at least two estate appraisers (or estate liquidators or auctioneers) and have them come to the house to look over the estate and give you a quote on their services. These people can do a turnkey operation for you if you want it, although of course, you will pay for these services out of whatever proceeds result from the sale of the Stuff. They can pack, mail, or ship any items you want to keep, specifically those mentioned in the will. They can pick out the more valuable furnishings and take them away for sale at their next scheduled auction. Unless they have a special license, they may not be able to sell liquor and guns, but they will know who to contact for these. They can sort through the remainder, hauling the stacks of newspapers to the recycling center and the rolls of rusty chicken wire to the dump. They can sell boxes of kitchen tools and old books for a couple bucks or take them to Goodwill if you tell them that’s what you prefer. Or they can offer you a flat price, say $15,000 for the entire contents of the house, and what they auction off or throw out is left up to them. (And if you decide to contract with a nonprofit like Goodwill to dispose of the contents, you can use that quote of $15,000 as the credible value of the contents when you declare the donation on your income tax return.)

This option is the least desirable in terms of money for the heirs, but it may be the most desirable for heirs who are too old, too ill, too far away, or too busy to handle any of the work themselves.

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About Mary Miley

I was born at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, where my father taught tactics to the cadets, so it's no surprise that my earliest memories are of the Corps drilling on the parade grounds to the rhythm of the Army band. I attended public schools in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, then worked my way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg, experiencing first hand the pleasures of wearing 18th-century attire during the sweltering summer. After putting my husband through law school selling cheese in Cleveland—aw, come on, it was a recession!—I returned to Williamsburg for a masters degree in history and a full-time job at Colonial Williamsburg, working with antiques and reproductions. It was there that I really learned how to write and how to make history come alive. When my children were young, I left Williamsburg for a thirteen-year stint teaching American history and museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and at the same time consulted with museums across the country on matters retail and financial. A free-lance writer since 1986, I have published a dozen nonfiction books and more than 200 magazine articles, most on history, travel, and business topics. During the past few years, I've branched into fiction, writing the first two of a mystery series and a romantic suspense, all set in the 1920s. The first, THE IMPERSONATOR, won the national contest for Best First Crime Novel and was published in 2013 by St. Martin's/Minotaur; its sequel, SILENT MURDERS, came out in 2014. I live in Richmond, Virginia, with my husband, an attorney. My greatest pleasures are traveling, playing the pipe organ with all the stops out, and reading mysteries.

Posted on April 19, 2014, in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Maarten Pennink

    Splendid suggestion and for further clarification: Would you recommend to have the “valuables” appraised by me (the parent and not yet too old to help for the future final breath)
    and a reputable auction house? So, how would you go about dealing with advanced actions. What kind of preparatory action would you suggest?

    Keep up the good suggestions/assistance! Thanks!
    Maarten Pennink
    Charlotte, NC

    • You get a gold star for thinking ahead to your heirs! But no, I’d not recommend you get appraisals now because they will be obsolete all too soon and you say you’re “not yet too old.” What you could do is gather information that won’t go out of date, like who made the object, when, where, amount originally paid, all the things we call “provenance.” That’s the hard part for people who inherit Stuff, figuring out what they’ve got!

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