Treasure and Trauma: Estate Planning for Families with Hoarders

Hoarding. You can tune in at least once a week and see some of the worst cases in action on TV. What is hoarding you ask? “An extremely complicated mental disorder that generally involves the acquisition of too many items, difficulty getting rid of items, and problems with organization and prioritization,” writes Hannah R. Buchdahl in a Newsweek article tackling the troubling topic.

Characteristics of Hoarders

Families who have members with this disorder deal with an additional set of issues when it comes to estate planning, especially if it is extreme. Hoarders in this case usually have a unique “filing” system (at best) and many very valuable items (such as jewelry, estate and other paperwork, keepsakes) mixed in with what most would consider worthless trash. To them, it is all treasure, so mixing it among any kind of item makes sense to them. Therefore, the home can’t be cleared quickly because everything must be sorted or lost.

However not all hoarding is extreme like the cases shown on TV. In fact, some specialists rate the “hoard” (collected items) from 1 to 10 in terms of severity. In addition, some hoarders will only collect one type of item. Regardless, this disorder usually really complicates an already emotional, involved process for trustees, executors, and relatives of the deceased.

Strategies for Dealing with Hoarding

We genuinely feel for clients who have this added issue to deal with when it comes to estate planning and the death of a loved one. Therefore, we suggest the following, if possible:

When possible, retrieve estate documents and store them offsite, maybe with the attorney of record, the executor or even in a safe deposit box (read more about storing your docs HERE). This will make immediate access possible.

Set regular check-ins with the relative to try to thin down the hoard so that it does not blow up to be a huge, costly burden for anyone. This also may help mitigate costs and damage to property. A typical cleanup can start at about $5,000 and rocket past $20,000 in the worst cases. However, many with this type of disorder may not cooperate.

Many times, families are stuck sifting through junk to find valued items in the hope of offsetting the costs to declutter, sort, clean, remove and so on.

You may then want to try working with professionals, including mental health professionals and specialized cleaning services. Hoarding is a true disorder and relapse is possible. Getting a handle on it in such a way may mean ongoing intervention. Doing this while the family member is alive may mean less trauma and effort when they pass away.

Get Professional Help

Here are some places to start: