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On a recent visit to our local used book store, I came on a copy of Step by Step: Your Guide to Making Practical Decisions When a Loved One Dies. Published by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, it’s a straightforward and surprisingly comforting guide to the practical details of bereavement, from notifying relatives to making funeral arrangements to filing for benefits and transfer of assets.

But as far as I can tell after several readings, it doesn’t make any mention of what to do with the assets that make up the bulk of the personal property, antiques and art inside the home.  And this oversight is a problem I hear over and over again from friends, family and clients when faced with the responsibility of settling an estate.

For many executors, the best way to start is by enlisting professional help.  An experienced appraiser or estate specialist can inventory a household faster, more thoroughly and more objectively than someone approaching the task for the first time.

But whether you work with an appraiser or decide to tackle the job on your own, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with some of the basic terms, challenges and key points to be aware of as you make your decisions.  Here are a couple of good reads to get you started.

 Julie Hall, The Boomer Burden. The single best resource for approaching the emotional, legal and practical challenges of dividing an estate while minimizing family strife.  In addition to providing plenty of useful step-by-step directions and checklists, Hall’s book will almost certainly convince you to put your own affairs in order and save your heirs the frustration and heartache of making difficult decisions on the fly.

Emyl Jenkins’ Appraisal Book.  Although Jenkins’ audience is really homeowners who want to learn more about their own collections and how to protect them, the Appraisal Book and her other works are useful resources for an executor who may need to know just enough about antiques and other household property to responsibly protect the interests of an estate.  In addition to providing a strong all-around primer, Jenkins shares plenty of useful tips for separating the genuine from the fake and avoid costly mistakes.

Harry Rinker, Sell, Keep or Toss? Punchy and direct, Rinker’s paperback is the best all-around practical guide to understanding your options for disposing of personal property.  One of the most useful sections deals with how to find and evaluate an appraiser, auctioneer or estate seller.

Jane S. Long and Richard W. Long, Caring for your Family Treasures. This one is really a guide to caring for family heirlooms, not a primer for executors.  A good resource for anyone wanting to know basic handling and conservation of treasured items.

Honorable Mention: Vickie Dellaquila, Don’t Toss my Memories in the Trash.  Like Hall’s Boomer Burden, Dellaquila helps navigate the emotional family dynamics related to downsizing and inheritance.

For more useful books, check out my bookshelf on GoodReads.  There’s a link on the left side of my homepage.  You may also want to review my previous post, “The Executor’s Checklist.”

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