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  • Writer's pictureShelley Diamond

Creating an Estate Inventory

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Few of us are prepared for the sobering task of dealing with a loved one’s belongings. It’s one of the most emotional and stressful aspects of loss. We’re sorting through the physical traces of a loved one's life and we may also be carrying out their final wishes. It can be almost unbearable, as well as a necessary step in our grieving process. It’s one I remember acutely after losing my parents.

While some people prepare for this eventuality and outline the distribution of personal property to beneficiaries in an estate plan, others don’t decide in advance, or may do so only for the distribution of their most valuable, non-financial assets. One way or another, you, your family members or an executor will need to disburse a loved one’s personal possessions. It can be time-consuming and a burden, whether they lived in an apartment or a single-family house. So where to begin? The first step may be the most emotional: separating personal belongings into categories - what to keep, sell, donate or discard. These decisions aren’t easy. Plus, you may not treasure every object your loved one owned, further complicating your decision making. Fortunately, there’s lots of useful advice posted online to help with the process (see links at the end of this article).

Whatever strategy you choose, creating an estate inventory to track, manage and distribute items you want to keep, sell or donate helps ease the process.

An estate inventory collects the most pertinent information about a loved one’s personal property and can be shared with all beneficiaries in an estate. More importantly, it can make this difficult task so much easier.

Advantages of an Estate Inventory

  • Creates order and systematizes the sorting process (valuables, keepsakes, mementos)

  • Classifies valuables into categories (keep, sell, donate)

  • Tracks which beneficiary gets what (useful if the will doesn't specify)

  • Promotes transparency among family members and beneficiaries (and potentially reduces conflict)

  • Encourages an efficiently and harmoniously settled estate

Elements in an Estate Inventory

I recommend you proceed room by room. You'll feel more organized. Whether you use a notepad or a spreadsheet, your estate inventory should gather the following documentation about each item added to the inventory:

  • Image (photograph each item with a camera or phone)

  • Location (even if temporary while packing)

  • Description (the more fulsome the better, so take extensive notes)

  • Category (e.g. keep, sell, donate)

  • Beneficiary (this may be preliminary or determined in the deceased’s will; you may also want to note if a family member has expressed interest in an item)

  • Monetary value (e.g. flag fine art, antiques, jewelry or other items you think may have potential monetary value)

  • Appraisal needs (for tax implications, sale, or to help calculate equal distribution among beneficiaries)

Having been through this somber process myself, I strongly recommend that you:

  • Be thorough and carefully go through every closet, cabinet and drawer. Some people hide valuable items in surprising places, often amidst ordinary belongings (e.g. jewelry in coat pockets or stored with costume jewelry; silver stored with bric-a-brac; cash in record albums).

  • Work with another person, if possible. This enables family members and beneficiaries to feel confident everything of importance gets inventoried and documented.

  • Hire an accredited estate appraiser to determine the value of specific objects or works of art. Appraisers can also advise on options for property dissolution (e.g. auction, estate sale, consignment). Get a referral from as estate attorney or from a professional organization, such as American Society of Appraisers. Consider the appraiser’s accreditation, training and specialty.

  • Locate financial documents, family photos and personal memorabilia.

Plan Ahead

Creating an inventory of your own personal property should be part of everyone's estate plan. Think about it. By being proactive, you'll make this inescapable task much, much easier for your heirs.

If you have questions, let me know. I’m here to help if you’d like personal guidance on creating an estate inventory. You can always sign up for a free 30-minute consult.

Be well, Shelley New York City


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