Steps to keeping their belongings safe
First make sure the house is secure: change the locks and install a security system if possible.
Thieves target empty houses, so make sure it doesn't look vacant. Forward mail and leave lights on.
Go through the house and gather their most valuable items, and consider securing them elsewhere.
Also be watchful for family members who may feel entitled to grab a particular item for themselves.
While you’re still in the early stages of your grief, the safety and security of your loved one’s personal belongings might not be the first thing on your mind. It can feel overwhelming or jarring to focus on their material things so soon after their passing.
This is, however, a necessary task to ensure no unfortunate incidents occur. And a few simple steps will reduce that risk and keep their belongings safe.
If your loved one lived alone, then it should be a priority to make sure their house or apartment is secure.
Retrieve any mail and forward all future mail to your address or a family member’s to avoid it piling up. If possible, leave a light on inside the home. Unfortunately, thieves will look for markers of a vacant property, so it is important to make sure that the house does not appear empty. Make sure that all accessible windows and side or back doors are locked as well.
If they owned the property, change the locks and consider installing a home security system if they don’t already have one. If they were renting, inform the landlord and ask them how best to secure the property.
You might not feel a pressing need to change the locks, as long as you can lock the house, but remember that you may not be aware of all the people your loved one may have shared a copy of their keys with. Changing the locks is the surest way to make sure that nobody has access to your loved one’s property who you do not know about.
It is also possible that family members who have keys may feel entitled to take possession of certain items. Your loved one’s personal belongings should only be distributed according to the wishes expressed in their will, or allocated fairly according to state laws and agreement within the family. This is an emotionally raw period for everyone, though, and you can never predict whether someone might decide that they deserve a particular item and simply drop by and take it.
Once the house is secure, you will want to make sure all of your loved one’s valuable and important possessions are safe. Some of these will be items of monetary value, some of sentimental value, and some will be important for you to have close by when you have to deal with the estate.
If your loved one had a home office, that is an important place to begin looking for valuables of this kind. Make sure that you locate their checkbook and any other important documents relating to their bookkeeping. You might also consider gathering up their electronic devices—laptops, desktops, tablets, phones, etc. Check to see if these items are password-protected. If not, you can create passwords for them as an extra precautionary measure.
Many people keep their valuables hidden in a hard-to-find place, so you may need to conduct a thorough search through the home. You might already have an idea of what you are looking for—family heirlooms, jewelry, emergency cash, photo albums, artworks, fine china, or silverware—or you might come across some surprises during your search.
Either way, be prepared for any feelings that might arise when encountering these precious items. Remember that there will be time for you to thoroughly sort through your loved one’s belongings later, at which point you will be able to spend more time with them. Right now, however, the task at hand is to round up their valuables and make sure they are secure. Take a deep breath and start your search.
Removing items from the home
You may choose to remove the valuable belongings you have gathered from your loved one’s home or leave them secured inside the property. There are a couple of things to consider in this decision.
Be prepared for any feelings that might arise when encountering your loved one's most precious items.
If the house will remain empty with nobody living there, there is always a greater chance of a break-in or robbery, even if you take all the right precautions. Thieves have ways of finding out the address of someone who has passed away, and unfortunately they may exploit this at a vulnerable time for your family. It is always advisable to leave address details out of any public obituary, and to make sure someone is available to watch the home during the funeral.
Nevertheless, you may feel much safer about your loved one’s most valuable items if you take them out of the house. Often this means storing them in your own home if you have space, or you might consider renting space at a storage facility nearby that only you have access to.
There is no one way to go about securing your loved one’s belongings, and it is completely up to you to decide what feels appropriate. Always try to err on the side of safety. There is little risk of being too safe in terms of securing your loved one’s belongings, whereas not doing so could lead to valuables being stolen or damaged.
You’re already going through enough of an emotionally difficult time as it is, without having to worry about thieves and over-entitled relatives. Hopefully, you will be comforted knowing that you are doing all you can to make sure your loved one’s possessions are as safe as possible. With a little organization and foresight, securing your loved one’s valuables should be simple and painless, so you can get back to the things that matter more, like processing your own feelings and memorializing the one you love.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
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