When a loved one dies – particularly if it’s unexpected – surviving family members have a multitude of things to deal with. They’re usually doing this amid some level of grief and maybe shock and disbelief. Often, little if any thought is given to making sure the person’s home is secure if it’s now empty.
You want to protect it not just from burglars and vandals. You also don’t want family members roaming through it, potentially taking items that were intended for someone else.
If the deceased person had an estate plan and they named an executor, that person should be the one responsible for securing the home – and keeping it secure. Ultimately, they’re responsible for the decedent’s belongings being distributed as they detailed in their estate plan. That means family members shouldn’t be allowed to go in and take items even for “sentimental” reasons.
Preventing unwanted visitors and intruders
That’s why changing the locks should be your first priority. This will keep out any neighbors, friends, family members or anyone else with a key. If there is no executor, one of the first orders of business should be to ask the court to appoint one.
You can also ask the local neighborhood security patrol or police to keep an eye on things. It may be wise to install doorbells and other security cameras. This will not only keep unwanted “visitors” away but alert you if a package is left.
If you’re not going to be able to check on the home regularly, be sure to forward the mail. Piled-up mail is a clear sign that no one is home.
Removing valuable items
It’s wise to go through the home as soon as possible and remove valuables like jewelry and hidden cash as well as documents you’ll need as you administer the estate. It’s best to bring a trusted family member or another person along to witness and document the removal of items. Be sure you let other family members know that everything is being kept in a secure location so help avoid suspicion and conflict.
These are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re in charge of a loved one’s estate (whether they have an estate plan or not). If they didn’t have an estate plan and their own estate planning professional, it’s wise to seek your own legal guidance.