Taking care of your loved one’s property during probate

3 min read

Probate is the judicial process in which a will is deemed authentic and the estate is settled and distributed to the beneficiaries—and it can take months or even years.

How long, exactly, depends on the complexity of the estate: its value, debts owed, and the beneficiaries complying with the will.

In some cases, not every beneficiary believes the will to be valid, or more precisely, fair. If it’s contested, then the probate process can get messy and be dragged out far longer than anyone wants.

But no matter how long probate takes, there are still things that need to be taken care of, both before and during the process—especially when it comes to any properties your loved one owned.

Take steps to protect residences

As soon as your loved one passes away and before probate, go to any houses or apartments they owned and make sure they’re locked up.

Houses are susceptible to being broken into if they look empty, so putting lights on a timer to make it look like someone is home is a good idea.

Although you’ll have your loved one’s mail forwarded to you, that doesn’t mean things like fliers or free newspapers won’t still end up on a porch or in the driveway. You’ll want to collect these regularly or, if you’re far away, have a neighbor do it.

Keep up with regular house maintenance

During probate, not only should residences remain locked up and secured, but maintained too.

Mortgages and property taxes should continue to be paid. If there are property insurance premiums, these too should be paid on time so there isn’t a lapse in coverage.

The property should be kept up to standard, meaning having the lawn mowed and any flowerbeds watered regularly. Also, maintaining the inside of the homes is something you want to do, which should include continuing to pay utility bills.

Lock up valuable items

When you go to your loved one’s house to lock it up and you know they had a lot of artwork, jewelry, cash, or other valuable items, remove them from the home.

Things like jewelry, cash, and other small items that are worth a pretty penny, can be locked up in a safety deposit box.

Bigger items, like valuable artwork or antique furniture that’s worth a lot, should also be secured in a safe place. While you may hope that everyone will respect the probate process and wait until these types of things are distributed among the heirs, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Keep track of personal valuables

Although it may not initially cross your mind to secure your loved one’s cell phone, laptop, or similar items, these should also be put in a safe and secure place.

Not only do these things contain personal information that’s no one’s business, but if the deceased just purchased a new computer and expensive phone, beneficiaries might swoop in and take these valuables.

Secure and maintain all vehicles

Whether it’s a car, a boat, or some other mode of transportation, these items should be secured before probate.

Make sure you have all the keys to these vehicles. And take extra steps when needed: for example, you’ll want to park the car off a main street so it’s less likely to be broken into. During probate, continue to pay insurance on all vehicles. And if a car is parked in a parking garage or a boat is renting space in a marina, make sure these expenses are paid as the bills come up ●