Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hoarding Costs Heirs and Beneficiaries

Hoarding2The following posting is supplied through the kindness of Wesley E. Wright and Molly Dear Abshire who are attorneys with the firm of Wright Abshire in Bellaire, Texas. Wright is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Estate Planning and Probate Law and is certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Abshire is certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation.

Hoarding, also called compulsive hoarding or compulsive hoarding syndrome, is receiving more attention thanks to the popular cable program Hoarders, which sheds light on how the disorder negatively affects the quality of life of the hoarding individual, as well as their loved ones and neighbors. 

Hoarding is a compulsion to collect and store certain objects for various reasons.  It may be a mental disorder, a physical illness or a lack of time to deal with the clutter.  Many hoarders don't believe they have a problem.  Small scale hoarders, commonly referred to as "pack rats," may save stacks of old documents, mail or sentimental items.  Extreme hoarders purchase endless goods and merchandise, regardless if they need it, and even save their garbage.  They create massive piles throughout their homes leaving narrow trails to get from room to room.

We know that hoarding creates negative environments for people with the problem, but what happens when they die?  Imagine you're an heir to a hoarder's estate.  How will you find the necessary documentation to handle the estate, like probating a Will and distributing assets when you can barely squeeze through their mess?  Consider the costs of riffling through a severely cluttered property.

For example, in one case a deceased hoarder left stacked papers, documents and trash three feet deep.  So complete was the clutter that there were tiny rabbit trails from one room to the next, just enough to walk through them one step at a time.  Active stock certificates were among trash on the floor.  Unopened bills and important documents were stashed in unlikely places. 

When confronted with this dilemma, the named fiduciary is responsible for marshaling assets into their control and has no other choice but to sift through everything searching for important material and assets. 

In this case, the house smelled strongly of mold, so a makeshift table was set up in the front yard for three assistants to sort through the discovered documents.  At the end of the first day, two out of three assistants were sick.

As a result, an order was signed by the court authorizing the house to be evaluated for mold spores.  The spore count was so high it was immeasurable!  A remediation report was made and, by law, the remediater cannot be performed by the same company who makes the initial remediation report; so two remediation companies had to be involved.  Another court order was necessary to authorize mold removal.  Men in space suits with special vacuums worked for several days removing the mold.  The cost to the estate?  $12,000.

Children of hoarders are often faced with the responsibility of sifting through and cleaning up a home that's overflowing with their deceased parent's possessions.  Cleaning a hoarder's home can cost up to $20,000 or more depending on laws about proper disposal of hazardous materials, as well as the home's condition.  Because clean-ups may last several weeks to months, the hoarder's children may have to take time off of work and spend time away from family and friends.  And all of this while dealing with the loss of a parent, handling funeral arrangements and probate.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/2012/02/hoarding-costs-heirs-and-beneficiaries.html

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