The term “estate” is typically used to describe a person’s possessions and assets, including their money and property, at the time of their death. An estate sale is typically an attempt to sell a decedent’s property for top dollar and as quickly as possible. The estate sale customarily takes place in the home of the individual that passed away. Most of the contents of the home, and sometimes the home itself, are “for sale.”

Does an Estate Sale Only Occur When Someone Dies?

While an estate sale is most common after the death of a property owner, there can be other reasons that an estate sale takes place.

The following list includes some other instances wherein an estate sale may occur:

  • Divorce;
  • Bankruptcy;
  • Move to retirement home; or
  • Simply downsizing.

The reason behind having the estate sale may vary, however, the basic premise of promptly liquidating assets is an underlying common factor for having an estate sale.

Who Conducts an Estate Sale?

Oftentimes, the family of the deceased or the executor to the estate conduct the sale. If there are many valuables that require research into worth and appraisal value determination, it may be best to hire a company that specializes in handling estate sales for the process.

If an estate sale agency is hired, keep in mind, they will need to be paid, so that needs to be factored in and deducted from estate sale proceeds. Additionally, a realtor may need to be contacted if the home or property is also included in the estate sale.

What is the Estate Sale Process?

Once it is determined whether the family or the estate’s executor will handle the sale or an outside private party is hired to tackle the task, the contents of the home must be prepared and organized for the estate sale.

Here are some steps that typically take place in preparation of the sale, during the sale and after the sale:

  • All items to be sold are organized and displayed throughout the home;
  • Items should be categorized in a way that is easy for potential purchasers to view and find. For example, all garden and other tools can be displayed in the garage and dishes from cupboards can be placed on a table;
  • Worth of items should be researched and all items tagged indicating price;
  • Choose dates for the sale to take place. Usually an estate sale runs over a weekend from Friday to Sunday;
  • Advertise the estate sale to the general public in the local newspaper and any online outlets to increase interest and the number of buyers that visit. The goal is to sell everything in the home, so the more traffic through the house, the better;
  • Estate sales do generate high interest. For the safety of everyone as well as protecting the goods in the home, it is important to be prepared to have a system in place to control any potential crowds. Individuals will typically line up outside the home prior to the sale;
  • Consider cutting prices on the last day of the sale to move items that may still be in the home;
  • After the sale, items that do not sell during the estate sale may be donated to charity or advertised as “free” for pickup; and
  • Once the home is emptied, it may be sold as well.

Proceeds from the sale, including the sale of the home, will usually be divided amongst the heirs. If the decedent had a last will and testament indicating how they want the proceeds distributed the probate court will honor those wishes.

Should I Call an Estate Sale Attorney?

In light of the recent global health pandemic, new, evolving issues are arising in all areas of the law, including estate planning. It is important to discuss your questions and concerns with a knowledgeable and experienced trust and estate planning attorney.

Many factors can come into play when an estate sale is being considered. Questions that arise can include:

  • Is there a last will and testament?
  • Or did the individual die intestate?
  • Who are the heirs to the decedent’s estate?
  • Should an estate sale company be hired?
  • How are the proceeds of an estate sale distributed?
  • Are there other costs involved in conducting an estate sale?
  • Do taxes need to be paid on the proceeds of the sale?

If you are making plans to draft a will and need guidance on whether or not to include an estate sale clause, an estate planning attorney can assist. Or, if you are an heir to property and need to conduct an estate sale, speaking with an estate planning lawyer will ease the complex process during an already difficult time. Estate sale attorneys will be able to guide you in making the right decision for your particular situation.