Hoarding is a mental disorder that affects millions of Americans, but was relatively unknown until recent television coverage by shows such as A&E's "Hoarders". Hoarders are individuals that feel a need to accumulate a great deal of items and have a difficult time throwing any of their possessions away. Extreme hoarders can have piles reaching from floor to ceiling, cutting small pathways through to enable them to get from one room to another. In fact, in many situations, the hoarding gets so bad that the individual has to live outside of their home, or the home gets so bad that it becomes condemned and they are forced to live elsewhere.
Most of us collect a number of items, or hold on to possessions that have significant sentimental value to us. However, a hoarder goes well beyond this point. Hoarders tend to buy compulsively, many frequent flee markets, garage sales and some even go through dumpsites and trashcans to find discarded "treasures". Not only do Hoarders collect a huge quantity of items on a regular basis, but they also have difficulty getting rid of items that most would consider trash - holding on to broken and unusable items and collecting more at any given occasion.
While hoarding is not a new disorder, it is relatively new in its stage of diagnosis. Currently it is considered a part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but many psychologists are pushing to have it separated as its own disorder. The features of hording include: 1. the acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value; 2. living spaces sufficiently cluttered to an extent that precludes activities for which those living spaces are designed; and 3. significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.
Not only is this a serious problem for the person with the disorder, but it plays a large role on their family and loved ones. Many families have been torn apart because of the hoarder's inability to choose their loved ones over their beloved "stuff". However, it also poses an additional problem that a number of our clients have experienced: what happens with all the items after the hoarder dies?
The biggest difficulty after a hoarder passes away is for the trustee to find all the necessary documents in order to administer the estate and, if necessary, go through probate. In one situation, active stock options were strewn through piles of obvious trash. There were 5 foot high stacks of various papers - newspapers, print outs, old coupons, bank statements, overdue bills, to-do lists...etc. This was a nightmare for the trustee to try to sort through, and help had to be brought in. Also, in many cases of extreme hoarding, the house suffers severe damage from the abuse as well. In this case, the count of mold spores was off the charts! It cost the estate $15,000 to get the house to the point where they could safely enter, and even then masks were a necessity.
Going through all these materials can takes months of dedicated and time-consuming work, and can also be a health hazard due to the volatile conditions of the home and the possessions. While the majority of us do not struggle with this debilitating disorder, we can take steps to make the process easier for our trustees:
- Keep your important documents in a set place that is easy to access
- Inform your trustees where they can find important items
- Throughout your life, remove items that are unnecessarily taking up space. Simply boxing items with no sentimental value and putting them in the garage or storage unit only causes more work for your trustees.
The responsibilities of a trustee are vast and can be daunting, even if you aren't also dealing with a hoarding situation. Try and make things as simple as you can for your trustees by keeping your files and your home in order.
About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, powers of attorney, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!