Distribute personal possessions

Settle the Estate

How an executor or administrator distributes personal property (often referred to as the “residual estate”) depends on whether the deceased had a will at their time of death.

Distributing Assets with a Will Typically, a Will identifies to whom possessions should be distributed. Because these types of possessions typically don’t have titles like houses or vehicles, they can be given directly to surviving spouses, Heirs, or Beneficiaries.

These personal possessions include, but are not limited to:

  • Personal property - those items of higher value (e.g. vehicles, jewelry, art, entertainment equipment)
  • Collectibles - items of collective value (e.g. stamps, coins, music)
  • Household items - everyday useful items (e.g. appliances, furniture, tools)

Distributing Assets without a Will If no will existed at the time of death, distributing personal items may be difficult if there are disagreements among the surviving family, heirs, or beneficiaries.

Personal possessions cannot be distributed before probate since they will need to be inventoried, appraised and distributed as part of probate.

Some best practices for the Executor or Administrator to help reduce conflict include:

  • Write down wishes - have everyone write down what they want and review any conflicts and any possible compromises based upon what is not chosen
  • Actively listen - ensure that each person has an opportunity to speak to why something is important or valuable to them; this way everyone feels heard and can more effectively compromise
  • Review appraisals - if one piece of property is more valuable than another, then it may be helpful to have it appraised in order to decide what other pieces would be a fair compromise
  • Make copies - family photos and videos and other items that can be easily copied can be digitally distributed to all parties

Any items not wanted by any heir or beneficiary can be given to other family or close friends, or donated to charity or sole.

Exclamation_Icon.svg Important In the nine “community property” states, property bought by either spouse during a marriage is equally owned by both parties. In this situation, most personal possessions of the deceased will automatically be the property of the surviving spouse and any conflicts that arise would need to be settled by the probate court.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information, see the “Sell the estate's goods” section of the Guide.

Personal Considerations


Are there unwanted personal possessions?


Go through the deceased’s belongings only when ready, as this can be a nostalgic or painful process.

For those items not designated to someone in the deceased’s will (or if there is no will), determine whether the item should be given to someone, donated to charity, sold, or thrown away.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about selling the deceased’s personal possessions, see the "Sell Estate Goods” section of the Guide.

To help organize this process and keep items sorted, label each item accordingly.

If the surviving family is going through this process together, avoid conflict by giving each person the opportunity to request items that might hold value to them.

It is also important that the executor or administrator keep detailed documentation of what was done with the unwanted assets. If unwanted items are sold, keep records of the amount received for the item.

Also, calculate the total value of all items sold, as cash proceeds should be split between the deceased’s heirs according to their will or according to state law.

For instance, if the deceased’s will states that their surviving spouse is to receive 75% of the estate while their surviving child is to receive 25% of their estate, the value of any assets sold should be divided 75/25 in accordance with the will.


Distribute the possessions to the Heirs and Beneficiaries that want them.

Receipts of distribution should be obtained from everyone who receives a distribution during Probate.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on receipts of distribution, see the “Obtain Receipt of Distribution” Task of the Guide.


If there are unwanted personal possessions:

Go through the deceased’s belongings only when ready, as this can be a nostalgic or painful process.

For those items not designated to someone in the deceased’s will (or if there is no will), determine whether the item should be given to someone, donated to charity, sold, or thrown away.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about selling the deceased’s personal possessions, see the "Sell Estate Goods” section of the Guide.

To help organize this process and keep items sorted, label each item accordingly.

If the surviving family is going through this process together, avoid conflict by giving each person the opportunity to request items that might hold value to them.

It is also important that the executor or administrator keep detailed documentation of what was done with the unwanted assets. If unwanted items are sold, keep records of the amount received for the item.

Also, calculate the total value of all items sold, as cash proceeds should be split between the deceased’s heirs according to their will or according to state law.

For instance, if the deceased’s will states that their surviving spouse is to receive 75% of the estate while their surviving child is to receive 25% of their estate, the value of any assets sold should be divided 75/25 in accordance with the will.

If there are no unwanted personal possessions:

Distribute the possessions to the Heirs and Beneficiaries that want them.

Receipts of distribution should be obtained from everyone who receives a distribution during Probate.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on receipts of distribution, see the “Obtain Receipt of Distribution” Task of the Guide.

Providers to Contact


Moving Companies Near You

Movers help people move their belongings from one place to another. They can help move a loved one’s belongings to a new location and help with the process of packing and unpacking.

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Estate Sales Companies Near You

Estate sale companies help people sell the belongings of the deceased. They can help handle the sale of estate property and belongings and ensure that all paperwork is in order.

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Storage Companies Near You

Self-storage companies provide storage space for people’s belongings. They can provide a place to store the deceased’s belongings before distributing them to heirs.

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Settle the Estate