Vale the contents of the family home. Who gets what after our loved ones have passed?

When someone close to us passes, its normal to drip with a sadness that feels like it will never abate.

The business of dealing with the death of a loved one means that sooner or later we will find out whether we have been listed as an executor or beneficiary of their will.. The names of relatives, friends, charities and, perhaps countless people we might or might not have ever known, may also appear on our loved one’s honour roll.

Some may suffer the indignity of being left out of the will. Others may feel jettisoned to the bottom of the pecking order when their share of the spoils from the will is not quite what they had hoped for. Greed does not take prisoners.

Whether we are satisfied or not, the decisions our loved ones make about the end and wrap up of their lives are theirs and theirs alone. However, the contents of their will can be exposed to questions, scrutiny and interpretations. And, there are many negotiated and legal remedies for the aggrieved to pursue in a dispute over the planned distribution of items mentioned in the will. But, that is not the whole story.

Those remedies available when a will is contested don’t normally apply when it comes to sharing the contents of our loved ones’ home and anything else that is precious to them that didn’t quite make it into the will. Generally, the artifacts of someone’s life are undocumented, leaving family members to contend with vagaries around their distribution and providing a hot bed for disagreements and more. It doesn’t have to be like this.

When someone leaves us, they also leave behind the essence of who they were, their heirlooms, photographs, clothes, shoes, tools, pots and pans, pets, plants, perhaps piles of paraphernalia and sometimes even, their secrets. Unpacking and dispersing their belongings is not always the most pleasant job. But it should proceed in a way (and pace) that respects the newly departed, together with the snapshot of their life that is cocooned within their home and among their belongings. Some sensitivity and compassion should also be reserved for those who volunteer to help unravel the newly departed’s life. 

Often times, family and friends won’t understand how much belongings like moth eaten dressmaker’s lace, scratched Engelbert Humperdinck vinyl records and Kodak slides from a camel trip from Port Augusta have meant to the deceased. These items represent their history and stories from a life well lived. Our loved one’s treasures could wind up being appreciated by an op shop as a $4 Monday special or coldly sold through an auction house where bidders are looking for a good deal over sentimental value because they didn’t know your loved one. Your loved one’s life means little in competitive bidding for an antique diamond ring. If only their wishes and gifting decisions had been documented.

Everyone’s wishes should be documented and updated as and when required. (Check out Secure My Treasures as your subscription based secure document safe at

The decision making for distributing home contents and personal effects can be a sad, perhaps emotionally taxing, but simultaneously rich and beautiful bonding experience for loving families.

Unfortunately, in dysfunctional families, grief often exacerbates simmering tensions especially where the departed was the peacekeeper. We’ve come across families where siblings are hellbent on “making sure that Julie doesn’t get anything” with the retort, “What did she ever do for us?”  There are many examples of what can go wrong when sharing a loved one’s belongings descends into an all-out brawl over the last hot chip. Imagine one family’s disappointment when a distant cousin battled ferociously to acquire an heirloom tie pin that turned up weeks later on eBay. And another, where the sister with the house keys got to shamelessly cherry pick the best of everything.

So when it comes to deciding whether to pitch, ditch or preserve these artifacts of a life well lived, who decides, with what qualification and how. There are no rules, no standard practice. Many a valuable item has been foisted into the trash during a pacy pack down when the grieving have been less inclined, unable or unwilling to discover what’s important and meaningful and what is not. What combination of grief, greed, haste or need for closure (so that the house can be sold?) has resulted in no end of battered brown suitcases full of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank notes turning up in charity bins. 

There is a lot to be said for transparency and good communication when you map out how belongings that are important to a loved one will be distributed after they pass.  

At Secure My Treasures we have created a free Home Pack Down Guidance and Template, to inspire you to make decisions about what will happen after you have gone that are fair, equitable and give you comfort and peace.

Our free Home Pack Down Guidance and Template will help you to share your decisions with your family and friends. Doing this, will give you an opportunity to manage any expectations of largesse, priority or omission and to hear any gripes while you are still alive.

Make life easy for yourself, click here to access the Secure My Treasures, free Home Pack Down Guidance and Template.

Author: Char Weeks, Founder and Director, Secure My Treasures

© Secure My Treasures, 2023

Secure My Treasures

Secure My Treasures