The probate process can be daunting for the personal representative, otherwise known as the executor. Not only do they have to deal with their own grief over the loss of their loved one, but they also need to deal with the court, their loved one’s will, any debtors, and valuing all of the items in their home. The latter is certainly a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one. Read on to learn how best to value the items in a house for probate.
Why do you need to value the items in a house for probate?
Valuing the items in a house for probate is an essential step in the process of settling an estate. The purpose of probate is to distribute the assets of the deceased according to their wishes, or, if no will exists, according to state law.
In order to do this fairly, the executor is required to have an accurate assessment of the value of the estate’s assets, including all items in the house. The valuation ensures that each beneficiary receives their fair share of the estate, and makes it easier for the executor to settle any debts associated with the estate (since often assets must be liquidated to do so).
An accurate valuation of all items also helps prevent disputes among beneficiaries over which assets they should receive (from a monetary perspective) since the valuation provides a clear picture of the estate’s worth.
How do you value items in a house for probate?
The best way to value items in a house for probate is to start by creating an inventory. Here are a few simple steps to follow:
- Create a section in a notebook for each room in the house. You can do this with any of the following methods:
- Use a physical notebook, giving each section a few pages
- Use a Google Doc and create a heading for each room, so you can navigate using the summary in the left sidebar
- Use Trello, which is free online planning software where you can create a column for each room to list the items
- Use Notion, where you can create pages and lists
- Choose a room and list everything within it. You should include:
- Ceramics and sculptures
- Valuable books (such as first or rare editions)
- Any other valuable items
- Consider adding a short description and photo. If you are using Trello, Notion, or another online option, consider adding a photo of the item (this will help if you need to contact an expert later). Add a short description so you know which item is which. You may want to include the designer, brand, artist, and any other relevant information.
- Research the value. Once you’ve collected all the information about the objects in a room, you can start researching their value. You’ll be able to get a good approximate value for most items online, but for others, you’ll need to get an appraisal from an expert. Make sure you’ve got any of the homeowner’s insurance documents, as they will have valued any special items.
- Repeat the process for the whole house. Yes, this process is time-consuming! This is a good time to download some good music, podcasts, or audiobooks to keep you entertained while you work.
Tip: If there are a lot of large antiques or other items you cannot transport to an expert, pay someone to come to the home to appraise as many of the large items as possible before you start this process in earnest. Keep any documentation they give you as proof.
Do I have to value every single item individually?
No. The focus here is on valuing items that are worth a significant amount of money. Items that are of little-to-no intrinsic value, or that largely have sentimental value, can be valued at $0. For example, you may be fairly sure you could get $8 for some old costume jewelry, but for the valuation, you could note it down at $0.
All items that are not considered a unique and obvious valuable can be grouped together. For example, you may get a specific valuation for a painting but group the dining set together (rather than chair by chair).
Some people even group all minor items such as clothing, unnoteworthy furniture, books, power tools, etc, as “Household Contents”, and give them a single value.
How do I get items appraised?
Since you’re asking an expert for their time, you’ll usually need to pay a fee for their valuation. For small objects like vases and jewelry, consider taking them to the expert to avoid paying for their journey to the home. Most appraisers charge $125 – $400 an hour, so make sure you know their fees before they come. You can find trusted appraisers at these associations:
You can also use an online appraiser, which often makes things much more affordable. While the appraisal may not be as accurate as if the appraiser was there in person, and you may have to get additional photos, you’ll have more control over how much the appraisal costs. You can find online appraisals at ValueMyStuff.com and WhatSellsBest.com.
What happens when the valuation is complete?
Once the valuation is complete, the executor will need to pay off any remaining debts and distribute the assets to the heirs or beneficiaries according to the will or intestacy laws. This process is more complicated if the probate is “formal” rather than “informal”, but is essentially the same (the only real difference being that the court must be involved with every stage for formal probate).
With the home item valuation complete, and the items sold or distributed between the heirs and beneficiaries, the home can be emptied and put up for sale or given to the heir, depending on the wishes left in the will. In many cases where there is a mortgage remaining on the property, or no heir wants to keep the home, the best option is to sell and split the proceeds between the heirs. We buy homes in Massachusetts for cash in “as-is” condition, meaning you don’t need to worry about outdated decor putting off potential buyers. To find out more about how we buy homes or to get an offer on your Massachusetts home, click here.