Handling the Empty Nest: Securing the Recently Departed Loved One’s House

When a person passes away there are several matters to take care of, the FIRST of which is securing the premises. One of my biggest concerns is the possible “Dash and Grab” that dishonest (needy?) family members perform when they hear of the recently departed family member and run to strip the house of assets with financial or sentimental value. And, as much as I hate to use stale idioms, “Possession IS 9/10ths of the law.”

Here are steps you can take to secure a family member’s personal belongings upon their passing:

  1. CHANGE THE LOCKS: If the house was owned by the decedent, consider doing this to protect the property inside.
  1. CANCEL CREDIT CARDS / FREEZE BANK ACCOUNTS: Supplying a Death Certificate to the financial institution should accomplish this almost instantly.
  1. DISPOSE OF PERSCRIPTION MEDICATION: While needy addicts may attempt to ransack a deceased person’s house once, they most certainly won’t try again if there are no drugs worth taking.
  1. FORWARD THE MAIL: This should protect account information from greedy interlopers attempting to gain access to financial accounts to pilfer.
  1. DO NOT CANCEL ELECTRIC / WATER / HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE: Each of these could have its own blog post. Non-running water can freeze and cause horrible damage if ice cracks the water pipes. You will need power to clean and show the premises. I shall remain mum on topics relating to insurance, but trust me: Do NOT let it lapse.
  1. CATALOG (AND THEN REMOVE) EXPENSIVE PERSONAL BELONGINGS: By cataloging all items you show evidence that you removed the property without intentions to abscond with it. Failing to do so is almost certainly burglary. There is a risk you could tace burglary charges even if you do the right thing though, so consult an attorney immediately before you start removing property from the premises.
  1. CONSIDER HAVING SOMEONE AT THE HOSUE DURING THE FUNERAL: The best time to burglarize a house is when you know no one is home. A thief who knows when and where a funeral is taking place is aware that (a) the owner is dead (and presumably not in the house), and (b) family members are not going to be there either. Ask a family friend to keep an eye on the premises during the funeral.
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