10 Tips for Estate Administrators and Executors

How am I supposed to settle this estate? What do I do with all this stuff?

In the midst of the grief and chaos that surrounds someone's passing, the logistical challenges of estate sales can seem like even more of a burden.  To be sure, selling the estate of a recently deceased family member or friend brings up some difficult memories – but the process doesn't have to be such a nightmare. These ten tips will help you with your legal and moral responsibilities, ensuring efficient administration, accurate appraisals and quick, profitable sales of any valuable personal property in the estate that you are managing.

1.     Value Your Time – It’s all You’ve Got.

Possessions come and go, and you’ll always have another opportunity to make money – but the time you have left on Earth is precious. Estate sales can easily take over all of your free time if you let them, so delegate everything that you can.  Your free time is precious – so find that balance between leisure and work.


2.     be selective when choosing a sale venue.

No matter what opportunities might arise between the time of the passing and your selection of an estate sale company, keep the entire estate intact until you identify the most appropriate venues. This is best with an experienced appraiser  or advisor that DOES NOT buy or sell property - avoid conflicts of interest with dealers and auctioneers at all costs.  Keeping the property intact as a group until you make your decision gives you the upper hand in commission negotiations. Estate sale companies often base their decisions on whether or not to accept a particular estate based on valuable objects within it – so depleting your estate of these valuables too early will remove the leverage that you have over auctioneers and their ilk.


3.     Surround yourself with Experts.

You shouldn’t have to go through the estate sale process on your own.  Plenty of professionals make it their entire life’s work to speed people through the estate sale process – and you’ll find no shortage of appraisers, lawyers, and financial planters that will jump at the chance to help.  Look for well-reviewed professionals with transparent pricing, and listen to their advice!  You have the ultimate say in the estate administration, but don’t be afraid to trust experts with decades of experience.


4.     Identify Significant Property.

While you don’t need to do a complete inventory of the estate on your own, separate all of the most valuable items from the bulk of the estate – including real estate, antiques, and vehicles.  Personal property appraisers are usually very efficient when it comes to identifying and inventorying estates, so it often pays to engage their services early in the process.  This will save YOUR time.


5.     Verify Clear Titles on Significant Property

High-value items like vehicles and real estate can come with legal baggage, especially if the deceased had outstanding debts, mortgages, or liens.  Make sure that the title for everything up for sale is free and clear, or you’ll end up back in court for post-sale litigation.


6.     Get an Appraisal of the Estate

If you have a personal attachment to the property that comprises your estate, it’s hard for you to objectively assess the value of each item.  Hiring an appraiser is a good way to minimize your emotion and time commitment to your estate sale while maximizing the total value that you can receive from your liquidation.  If you are wondering how to shop for a qualified appraiser, read our past post that discusses how you can be a smart consumer when looking for a personal property appraiser.


7.     Donate Items without Resale Value

Simplify your life by donating the items that don’t have a high resale value. Instead of struggling to sell items at a lowered starting bid, try donating items with low resale values to charities or other organizations that can benefit from your estate.  Not only will you be helping the less fortunate, you’ll also end up with a tax write-off that is a better value than the cash you could receive from a hurried auction or listing.  When you donate tangible items, you'll want to list them on the IRS 8283 form.  Non-cash charitable contributions valued in excess of $5,000.00 require an appraiser to complete and sign the 8283 form, as well as verification from the recipient of your donation.  Read more about donating tangible items in our past blog post covering the subject.


8.     Use the “Three Tiered Approach” to Marketing

To start the liquidation process, consider using the three-tiered process that is described by Martin Codina in his latest book (Codina, 2013). Find a qualified personal property appraiser that can help you look at the sale objectively, then consign the highest value items to large auction houses – either international or regional depending on the appeal of the items – with an estate liquidation firm taking care of the mid-tier and lower value items at a single large sale.  This will maximize your returns from your estate sale while avoiding the enormous time sink of individual listings for each item.


9.     Stay in Touch with an Attorney

Even if you don’t think the estate liquidation will breed conflict amongst family members, you should stay in touch with your attorney throughout the entire process. Attorneys can manage conflict between siblings, deal with property liens, and can provide an objective party that resolves disputes between buyers and sellers.  Attorneys are an investment that might pay dividends in spades – so don’t skimp on legal representation.


10.  Be a Complete Record-Keeper

There is plenty of paperwork that comes with estate administration.  Between your tax liabilities and the financial statements you must prepare, an organized file system can save you time and money. Keep all of your receipts, and scan hard-copy paperwork into the computer so you can make backup copies on cloud-storage sites. Accurate records will save your bacon when tax day rolls around!



As the administrator for an estate, you don’t have to put your life on hold. Estate sales can be stressful and complicated without the proper support and planning, but you can find plenty of professional services that will make the process easier. Assemble your team of estate sale experts today with these great tips – and contact Bryson for more assistance with estate management and personal property appraisals.


Works Cited

Codina, M. (2013). Liquidating an Estate: How to Sell a Lifetime of Stuff, Make some Cash, and Live to Tell About It. Boston: F+W Media.