What Happens to a Hoarders’ Possessions When They Die?

When adult children face the death of a parent, they confront planning a funeral, making burial arrangements, and dealing with the probate process. What a surprising number of adult children also confront is the shocking revelation that a parent had been hoarding to an unimaginable extent. The situation becomes even more untenable if a deceased parent had been hoarding animals.

A glaring issue confronting an adult in the aftermath of a hoarding parent’s death is what happens to the amassed possessions accumulated over time. In other words, what happens to the deceased parent’s hoard.

What is Hoarding?

The world-renowned Mayo Clinic advises that hoarding is classified as a mental disorder. It is characterized by a persistent difficulty to discard or otherwise part with possessions. This inability arises from a perceived, pervasive need to save them.

Facing a Hoard: It’s Likely Not All Junk

When an adult child of a deceased hoarder faces that parent’s home for the first time after death, one incorrect assumption is that the project ahead involves removing and eliminating a “bunch of junk.” If that were the case, the prospect of cleaning up a hoard would be far, far easier.

The reality is nearly always very different. Yes, the hoard will be filled with an abundance of worthless items, even trash. However, within the hoard will be valuable pieces of property, tucked amidst all the garbage and in not logical order.

One of the aspects of hoarding disorder is an inability to appropriately discern between items that have value and those that do not. Therefore, the child of a deceased hoarding parent is going to have to closely examine what is removed from the hoard to identify items that have value. In fact, if the deceased parent’s estate is subject to probate, and a child is appointed the executor or administrator, he or she has the legal obligation to ensure that nothing of value is lost in the hoarding cleanup process.

Professional Hoarding Cleanup

An heir left with hoarding cleanup must understand that this process involves more than just “sorting through junk.” Because of the nature and extent of a typical hoard, within the mass of items accumulated over time can be dangerous substances that can negative impact the health and wellbeing of anyone that comes into contact, according to the University of California. These substances can include biohazardous materials in a number of different forms.

Rodents and other vermin naturally are attracted to a hoard. Thus, a hoard can be contaminated by urine and feces, both of which can contain harmful viruses that jeopardize the health of humans. In addition, a hoard can be littered with the remains of dead rodents and other vermin, which takes the presence of biohazardous material to an even more dangerous level.

The magnitude of the amount of items hoarded by a deceased parent in and of itself very well may be enough to motivate an heir to seek professional help in hoarding cleanup. If that didn’t prove enough of a motivation, the existence of biohazardous materials and potentially dangerous, and even deadly, pathogens contained within the hoard should be enough to prompt retaining professional assistance in remediating the situation, in cleaning up the hoard.

A Deceased Hoarding Parent and the California Probate Process

As mentioned a moment ago, a majority of hoards contain junk, even trash, but also items that very well may be valuable. An investigative report in Newsweek magazine addressed situations in which the adult children of hoarders found valuable items like diamonds, stock certificates, and life insurance policies muddled in with (literally) tons of trash.

Following the death of a parent, some type of probate process may be necessary. This particularly is the case if the parent owned the home in which the hoard exists and has multiple heirs. California does have different probate procedures available, depending on the amount and types of assets a person possesses at the time of death.

No matter the type of probate process, an accounting must be made of a deceased parent’s assets. This can only be accomplished as part of the process of hoard cleanup. As an aside, there is a specific timeframe according to California law by which the accounting or inventory of assets of the deceased parent must be accomplished.

As is the case with most people, a residence is the most important asset owned. If this is the case of the deceased parent who hoarded during life, the house must be returned to a habitable condition. This process necessarily includes not only hoard cleanup but a restoration of the damage caused to the premises because of years of hoarding and neglect.