Our mother died a few months ago, following my father who died in 2018. We are planning now to sell the family home and disburse her assets between her four children, 25pc each as per her will. Our dilemma is twofold: is it OK for each of us to take whatever personal items we want or should we split it evenly, and what to do with the house contents that are not wanted? Is it best to leave the pieces we’re not taking ourselves in situ and sell with the house or auction them? There are some heavy dressers and ugly ‘brown’ furniture too big for our houses and we haven’t a clue where to start.
Sinead replies: “This is the most common question I receive every day”, says Ross O’Sullivan, Associate Director of Herman’s Auctioneers. “It isn’t often that one is faced with clearing an estate and it is a daunting task, especially when people are grieving. Ninety nine per cent of houses on the market are sold without contents and there is a contractual obligation to clear them for the sale to close in most cases.” This, he explains, leaves you with three options:
l disposing of all the unwanted items (disposal is costly and is the equivalent in most average homes of putting €5,000-€10,000 in the skip;
l calling a reseller or second-hand dealer to purchase the contents (the dealer’s profit is made from your direct loss, so should be avoided);
l having a licensed auctioneer advise, value, auction and dispose of the contents (auctioneers work on a commission basis and want to maximise value as a result).
An auctioneer often advises free of charge, over the phone or by call-out, to assess the value of items being disposed. Look for one who offers a ‘full service’, which means they actually clear the items on your behalf.
Mr O’Sullivan adds it’s important not to ‘tidy up’ before they get there, as he has seen items with a potential monetary value thrown out as the owner may not realise this. Being ugly or unsuitable for you doesn’t mean there’s not a market for it somewhere.
Valuation can also provide you with an essential requirement of probate, before asset division, which is to properly value the estate.
As to the initial query, the will sounds fine, but the 25pc split requires the executor to be fair to all parties. It sounds like you have plenty of items in the house which would benefit from a professional valuation, so I would recommend this.
You can, of course, select any personal items you want, but to avoid future acrimony, getting everything labelled and itemised financially, while it might sound unemotional, will in fact satisfy Revenue for probate, give comfort to your siblings and carry out your parents’ instructions exactly.
My wife and I were married for five years before she sadly died earlier this year. I live in what was ‘her’ home, while ‘my’ home is rented out, which provides me with a pension income. We both had wills, leaving our homes to our respective children (I have three, she had two), but with a proviso which allows me to live there all of my life. The issue is that while I am in the house, as per her instructions, her two children expect me to pay rent to them as it is ‘their’ house. I am in my 70s now and find this very upsetting, but I don’t know if they are right to insist on this. My children, obviously, do not want this, but I am confused.
Sinead replies: It’s sad when family issues arise over wills. The very act of making one is to let those left behind know exactly what you wish to happen with your assets. This, your wife has done, so it is upsetting to find her children have taken a different interpretation. I asked William Tilley, Senior Associate Solicitor at Ivor Fitzpatrick & Co, for his advice.
“Leaving a house to one’s children in a will whilst allowing a partner/spouse to reside there for their lifetime is common. The right of the person living in the property must be addressed when the will is written which, in your situation, it appears to have been. There is no straightforward, clear-cut answer to your query, as it largely depends on the specific wording in your late wife’s will.
“It appears as though your wife may have included ‘life interest’ trust, setting out her wishes with regard to holding assets. This arrangement is frequently put in place for those in second marriages who wish to ensure their spouse has a roof over their head, but that ultimately, their children will receive the benefit of the assets concerned after their spouse’s death.
“If your wife’s children have been appointed as both trustees and remainder beneficiaries (which appears to be the case), the home is not technically theirs until you pass away. Therefore, your wife’s children cannot act as landlords and do not have the ability to legally charge you rent. Although you are likely to be formally referred to as a ‘life tenant’, in this instance, you are for practical purposes an ‘owner occupier’ of the home; not an actual tenant”. Give your solicitor a call.