Following the death of a family member, you may find yourself needing to sort through many possessions accumulated over the deceased’s lifetime. An estate sale is one way to dispose of those items that you do not want or need quickly and efficiently.
While selling someone’s furniture, jewelry, artwork, antiques, and other belongings yourself can mean a great deal of time and effort on your part, there are companies that help families sell items. An estate sale company will do all the work in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds — typically anywhere between 25 percent and 50 percent. The company usually handles organizing the inventory, staging the house, appraising the value of items and setting prices, promoting the sale to the public, and hiring workers to run the sale.
Before the sale, you will need to consider a few things. First, ensure that you have the legal right to sell the property. There cannot be any unresolved estate issues. Some companies request legal documentation showing that you have the right to dispose of the property. You will also want to remove from the house anything you want to keep before calling in the liquidators, but avoid throwing too much away; as any good picker knows, one person’s idea of trash might be another person’s treasure.
There is no regulatory body that oversees the estimated 15,000 estate sale companies in the United States, so before hiring one of them, rely on a referral from a trusted friend, family member, or estate planning attorney. And always do your research. You can search the website of the American Society of Estate Liquidators, a trade association that requires its members to meet certain requirements and abide by an ethics code. You can also check your local Better Business Bureau and Yelp for complaints about companies you are considering, or attend a sale run by the company. Or if you are someone who attends estate sales, take note of the ones you visit and what company is running it to see firsthand how the sale is being run.
When reaching out to companies, make sure to ask if the liquidator carries insurance in case there are any accidents while buyers are at the estate sale. Also ask any prospective liquidating company how it handles security, what happens to goods that do not sell, and what type of clean-up is included. (Not all companies include cleanup in their services.) Once you’re ready to hire someone, make sure the company offers you a written contract so that you can be clear what each party is responsible for.
In some cases, estate sales are used to help people moving into nursing homes and assisted living facilities downsize their belongings. It should be noted that many companies discourage families from being present during the actual sale, regardless of the reason for the sale.
For lovers of old houses and deep discounts, an estate sale can be the perfect way to spend a weekend morning. While there can be fun in seeing an older home’s decoration or architecture or getting a good deal, an estate sale can be lots of work for family members. Fortunately, when using an estate sale company to help organize everything, the process can be relatively stress-free and leave you with some extra cash.
The information provided is not intended to be legal or tax advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lake Charles, LA. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.