Can You Empty a House Before Probate?

If you’ve experienced a recent bereavement you’re likely wondering what you need to do with your loved one’s things while you wait for probate. There are a lot of rules around what you can and can’t do during probate, so it’s important to be mindful and not make any decisions too quickly. That said, you likely have concerns about what will happen to valuables in the home, whether of financial or sentimental value.

Before you start removing anything, read on to find out what you can and can’t do.

What is probate?

Probate is the name for the legal process of dividing someone’s estate after death. This is done through the court and may be supervised if there are any legal disputes involving the estate. The probate process is in place to ensure that the deceased’s heirs get what the deceased intended them to receive.

The probate process can be lengthy – usually taking 6 months to complete. You should file a petition for probate as soon as you can. If you are the executor of the estate (the person elected to have legal control over the estate after the deceased’s death) you must wait until the probate process is complete to start doing anything with the deceased’s possessions.

Is there a way to empty a house before probate?

If the house is included in probate, removing anything from within the home can be tricky. If there are any outstanding debts on the home, the house may need to be sold to pay off the deceased’s debts. If this is the case, you’ll need to remove the items within the home and either have an estate sale or divide the items between the heirs.

If one of the heirs will be inheriting the home, the executor can act on behalf of the estate to transfer the deed into the heir’s name. Once the deed has been transferred, the home can be emptied and distributed.

Can I clean a house before probate is complete?

A home in probate is not a crime scene – feel free to remove spoiled food and empty garbage bins. You simply should not remove anything that could be important legally, financially, or sentimentally to probate or any of the beneficiaries.

Why can’t I empty a house before probate?

There are 3 main reasons why you can’t empty a home before probate is complete:

  1. You may need to inventory the contents
  2. You may not have the right to an item – a will may give an item to another relative or friend
  3. You may not know the real value of an item

If you remove or sell something before probate is complete and weren’t supposed to, you may have to pay that money back to the estate.

How can I keep a house safe until probate is complete?

If you cannot empty a house until probate is completed, you need to make sure the house is kept safe until then. In most cases, the best option is to have someone move into the home and live in it, at least part-time, until probate is complete and the home can be emptied and sold. This is also a good option as it ensures the home will stay in good condition. If the estate has the means, you may choose to hire a house sitter if no one in the family can move into it.

You can, in some circumstances, move valuables to a more secure location for safekeeping. This is a good idea if there are expensive vehicles, jewelry, or art on the property. If you move them and they are not willed to you, you should find a commercial facility to house them until probate is complete. You should also have someone witness you moving them.

Can I move into a house before probate is complete?

Yes, but you cannot remove things from the home until the probate process is complete.

How to Clear a Home After Probate

Clearing a loved one’s home can be an emotional experience, so take it step by step. You likely already had to go into the home to find important documents, such as their will, so start clearing the home by finding other documents. Keep anything like titles and destroy anything else.

Next, sort through their belongings and distribute any valuables to heirs, as needed. Everything else can be donated, sold, or thrown away. If there are multiple heirs, it’s best to sort through the valuables together to divide them fairly. Work room-by-room.

If the house is going to be sold, you may want to leave some essential pieces of furniture in place to stage the house for sale, but this isn’t necessary.

How to Sell the Home Quickly

If the heirs have decided not to sell the house and it wasn’t willed to anyone in particular, you’ll be ready to sell it once it’s cleared out. Some heirs will choose to put more money into the property to modernize it to get the most money out of the sale, while others are just looking to liquidate the asset as soon as possible.

If you need to sell the home as soon as possible, whether to liquidate the home to pay off debts before probate or simply because you want everything to conclude quickly, selling to a cash buyer is often the best option.

Sell Your House Fast in Massachusetts

If you’re selling a home during or after probate and need to sell the property in as-is condition as soon as possible, we’re here to help. All you need to do is send us a few details about the home and we’ll call you with our best cash offer. If the offer is right for you, you can accept and we’ll move forward and purchase the property. You don’t need to do any improvements or modernizations and we can often even clear out the home for you if it’s overwhelming.

If you’d like to find out more or are ready to get your free no-obligation cash offer for the home, click here.

Learn how to sell your house fast without a real estate agent...

Selling a property in today's market can be confusing. Get in touch with us by submitting the form below and we'll get back to you to discuss your options.

Sell My House for Cash

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.