Is It Possible to Empty a House Before Probate?


Losing a loved one is always hard – especially if you were close to them. The time right after that is full of mourning and grief, as well as reminiscing the moments you’ve spent with them. Unfortunately, it is also the time of taking care of legal matters associated with the passing of a relative – such as a probate process.

However, before you do that, you might want to go into their house and get a few sentimental items, just to keep as a memento. Can you do that? Well, that’s what we’re about to find out in this article. If you want to find out what the law says about removing items before probate, keep on reading.

What Is Probate?

According to the experts from Investopedia, “probate is the term for a legal process in which a will is reviewed to determine whether it is valid and authentic. Probate also refers to the general administering of a deceased person’s will or the estate of a deceased person without a will.”

When the estate’s owner passes away, the court appoints an executor (when such a person is named in the will of the deceased) or an administrator (if there’s no will) whose responsibility is to take care of the probate process.

What exactly does it mean?

Well, an executor or an administrator is responsible for collecting the assets of the deceased person, paying all the liabilities that there might have been on their estate, and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries.

Now that you know a bit more about the probate process itself, let’s get into what you are actually here for.

So, Can You Empty a House Before Probate?

The answer, unfortunately, in most cases, is no. Probate is a legal procedure supervised by the court that ensures every beneficiary gets the assets they are supposed to. By not allowing anyone to remove any items from the property, the court is preventing fraud from occurring.

Let us explain this matter with an example.

Let’s say that both of our parents passed away. After such a tragic event, you’d probably want to deal with everything your parents weren’t able to, meaning taking care of bills and any other commitments they might have had – not to mention that you might want to take home some of the sentimental items. However, aside from the memories, your parents’ house probably also contains some valuable assets, such as jewelry or money – some of which may be included in their will.

Are there any exceptions to this?

Yes, there is an exception. The only situation in which you are allowed to enter the house and take the items you wish is when the probate is not required altogether. This happens if, for instance, the property is passed down to the next owner via a living trust, community property law, transfer-on-death, or joint ownership.

What Can You Do Before Probate?

Although you cannot really remove anything from the house, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do before the probate process ends (which, by the way, can take anywhere between three months and a few years). There are a few things that you can easily perform beforehand.

Those include:

  • Changing the locks – the truth is that you never know how many people actually have access to your deceased relative’s house. What’s more, just because the court rules that no one can empty a house before probate does not mean that people will not try to do so – especially if they know that there’s something valuable there.
  • Taking care of the payments – you might want to keep paying for the important things, such as house insurance. However, feel free to cancel any subscription that isn’t necessary – for instance, magazine subscriptions.
  • Forwarding the mail to your house – you probably don’t want to come home every few days just to check the mail – especially if you live in another state, as it would be too much of a hassle. So, instead of doing that, forward the mail to your home address – you can easily do it through USPS.

The Bottom Line

The death of a relative is often a traumatic experience – especially if you were close with them. The time right after that is full of grief, and you would probably want to focus on all the good moments you had with them. Unfortunately, it is also the time of taking care of legal matters – one of them being the probate process.

It involves several steps that you need to go through, of which we have included a brief explanation. We hope that after reading this, you have a better understanding of what you can and cannot do with the content of the house before the probate process is completed. Good luck!

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