How to Liquidate an Estate

silver being liquidated from estate

Along with grief, the loss of a loved one brings a big to-do list. First, there are funeral arrangements to be made. Then, you need to figure out what to do about the will and/or trust (which may or may not be easy, depending on their level of preparedness and the number of assets they had). And finally, you need to liquidate the estate. In other words: distribute, sell and dispose of all of their earthly possessions. It's no simple feat: not only are there logistics, but it can be emotionally taxing letting your loved one's earthly possessions.

If your late relative’s possessions were few (some people choose to liquidate on their own prior to their death, which certainly makes it easier for those left behind), you might be able to clear their estate out quickly. Otherwise, the process is a little more involved.

The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out if any of the belongings were designated to particular people. It is quite possible that Grandma wanted to leave her vintage tea set to the granddaughter who shared her love of high tea, or her journals to a memoir-writing niece. If the will doesn’t specify this information, check other documents and/or files — just in case. Family members can also discuss and decide together who gets what of any remaining items of sentimental or monetary value.

At this point, you’ll need to decide whether you want to hire a liquidation firm to do the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) on your behalf. For many people, this is the only way to go because the firm will take care of absolutely everything, saving you a lot of time and stress. And by everything we mean everything. They sort. They appraise. They price. They hold estate sales and/or auctions. They even donate leftover items to charity and make sure the property is “broom clean” before closing up shop. All you have to do is remove important papers and any items you don’t want to sell, and, of course, pay for the service.

Not sure where to find a liquidation firm? Getting recommendations from trusted friends and associates is a good place to start. You can also visit to look for listings (just be sure to the firm is reputable before signing on the dotted line...get those references!). The National Estate Sales Association is another a good resource; the organization’s website offers lots of information for people in the throes of estate liquidating. If you're planning to sell the property, your real estate agent may have some recommendations for you, too, since they frequently deal with situations like yours.

If you decide to forgo professional services and liquidate the estate yourself, prepare to set aside plenty of time for the process. You’ll need to dispose of trash, determine which items to keep, donate, or sell, and figure out pricing for those things you wish to sell. In terms of actually selling everything, it will likely be a mix of things like online auctions and selling sites, consignment shops, and yard sales. Challenging, yes, but doable for those who prefer a more hands-on approach to estate liquidation. 

The final step in the liquidation process may be selling the home, which can seem like the easy part compared with dealing with all of Uncle Joe’s earthly possessions. Once this is complete, you’ll be able to distribute the proceeds as specified in the will and put this very complex and overwhelming task behind you.

Our Family Survivorship Guide will help steer you through some of the uncertainties around putting your loved one’s financial affairs in order. Some of the topics covered include settling accounts, documentation you'll need, how to establish an estate account, and more. Download your free copy here.

A Guide to Family Survivorship by Hanscom Federal Credit Union

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Dawn Weinberger

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