Hire a mover for the effects of the recently deceased in Cambridge, MA?
October 5, 2018 6:54 AM   Subscribe

My sister died unexpectedly of a mysterious health issue three weeks ago. Now in clearing up the rubble left behind, I have the very real problem of dealing with her stuff in a different state (Cambridge, MA). Help me sort out how to handle this, especially with hiring movers?

So, my only and older sister died out of the blue, and I am left having to pick up the pieces of her life and my mom's as well. She lived in Cambridge, MA for the last three years; we're originally from SE Connecticut, where my mom still lives. I live in Portland, OR but because of this I'm temporarily living in CT to help out. My sister was only 37, and had no will. She rented a 1BR apartment in a 2nd floor walkup and she owned a LOT of things. She was a collector and had great taste-- collected midcentury furniture, high end cooking equipment, as well as the usual extensive book and dvd collection. While some things can be donated, there's a lot that I either may absorb into my belongings or send to friends as mementos. But basically my husband and I have been taking weekend trips up to Cambridge to sort through the stuff left behind, as my mom can't physically or emotionally handle it. Last week we took all the small special fragile things, as well as paperwork that we felt important to save. Our plan is to do the following:

- donate what we know can be donated (clothing, small goods, etc)
- pull aside mementos for others
- box up the rest and hire movers to move from Cambridge, MA to a storage unit in CT
- deal with it in CT over the next few months
- eventually rent a cube and move the things I'll keep to Portland, OR?

But I've never hired a mover, and I am feeling clueless about it. Do I hire a mover in Cambridge or one local to CT? We think it would be the former as it's a 2hr drive which seems unnecessary. Does anyone have any recommendations for movers in the Cambridge/Boston area? Has anyone hired a mover for a dead person's estate? I read a little about how you can hire a mover to pack things-- but I don't know if it's better to do that or just pack things well. Is there anything I should do to prepare the furniture? My sister was so exacting in her eye for detail that any little scratch/defect would be the end of the world-- while I'm not that way, I am feeling a weird sense of duty not to let it get damaged. Especially the mid-century pieces-- they're lovely and I want them to stay in my home in Portland for years to come.

Also when do you usually hire the mover? I'm guessing in a city I'll have to give some advance notice. I'd like to get the goods moved by the end of October. Should I hire the movers now even though we have a lot to do still?

Thanks in advance. This loss has been gutting and painful in so many ways, but I will feel a bit better when we have her things back in CT and I can process them at my leisure.
posted by actionpact to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My experience of moving is that you don't even need to pack a lot of stuff all that well. The furniture goes as is, fragile stuff needs protecting but whenever we've moved loads of crap gets hoicked into bin bags to be sorted out later. Even with a load of nice stuff to be looked after properly I bet you will be surprised how much crap there is. The other key thing is that it always takes longer than we think it will to box and bag stuff up. Sometimes a lot longer. This is relevant as you will get fed up and it is a job that can stretch out like chewy toffee. Book the movers to give yourself impetus to get things in order.

Last time we moved we considered both getting the movers to box as well as to carry. We plumped for carrying only and it was money very well spent. It took 4 experienced blokes pretty much all day to box up, carry out, drive about 500m and unpack. Definitely get them to do that. But it sounds like you could save yourself a lot of emotional wear and tear on top of the hassle of normal packings, so go with the boxing if it is within your budget. My understanding is that most movers will offer a packing service. Someone may be able to offer advice on what to look out for in terms of ensuring responsible behaviour in moving valuable stuff.
posted by biffa at 7:06 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do make sure to protect the furniture if you want it to come out in the same condition it left in-- you can use bedding as padding in some cases, or drape with a bedsheet and tape bubble wrap over that (plastic may leave marks on some wood finishes.) All my wood furniture has gotten banged up or scratched when moving. You can still hire people to box stuff up, but if you can take some extra time to protect those pieces you especially care about, it will probably work out better.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:14 AM on October 5, 2018

If she was a serious collector, I'd suggest asking an auction house to look over the furniture and artwork to see if it is worth auctioning. I did that when my mother died, and there were several items that were worth auctioning that I was not aware of. Rugs, prints, and so forth. I'd hate for you to donate something that might be worth saving to Goodwill, where it might be poorly cared for.

Before you proceed have you talked to a lawyer about who owns her stuff and any limitations to what you can do with it? People who die without a will are more complicated. Also, have you checked with her employer (or looked through her files) to see whether your mom or you might be beneficiaries of any life insurance or retirement accounts? In my experience they will not look for you, and you will need original death certificates to claim any inheritance. These are usually settled completely outside of a will, so dying without one is immaterial. Naturally, you should check with a MA attorney. And I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by citygirl at 8:15 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

It is worth the money to have the movers pack things (outside of stuff like fabric that you can toss in a box). This is especially the case if the furniture is going to be stored for awhile.
Take photos of the furniture so if there's damage you'll have evidence.
posted by k8t at 8:37 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's a good firm in Miami, Florida called "A Move Made Easy," which specializes in handling the property of e.g. the elderly who must move into assisted living. I believe they would be helpful in your situation too. See their website for the services they provide. Of course they're not in your area, but call them and see if they can recommend a firm or an organization that operates in the Cambridge area.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:45 AM on October 5, 2018

I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm sure it's overwhelming to deal with your sister's stuff. I'm going to respond to your question about movers based on my experience with my mother's stuff and her house in Natick.

But first, and with tenderness, I want to suggest that your plan is likely to end up with your sister's stuff sitting in a storage unit for years. That's because it will be so difficult, emotionally, to address and also because it's very hard to do this sort of work in a storage unit; there won't be enough room, you won't know which boxes contain whatever you're looking for or they'll be buried under other boxes, etc. A storage unit is also not a great environment for wood furniture due to weather, accessibility to rodents and insects, etc. It will be hard, and the results may not be perfect which can also cause grief, but making the decisions now will spare you years of guilt about how your sister's cherished things are sitting unloved in a storage unit. Get them into the hands of people who will care about them, whether they knew your sister or not. If you're thinking about cost, another month or two of rent compares well to the cost of storing and moving the stuff.

So I want to encourage you to do most of the work you're planning to postpone now, while you still have everything laid out in her apartment and can get at it easily, e.g.,
  • Take photographs of her collections, how her rooms were decorated, etc. to help you remember her and the things that were important to her, without having to actually keep them.
  • Decide what you're trying to maximize, e.g., collection integrity, sentimental value, cash value, what your sister would think, etc. because these notions can be useful lenses to make disposition decisions. To use a crazy example, My SIL, wanted to take half of the butter knives from one of my mother's sets of antique sterling flatware just because she didn't have any butter knives. I felt that disrespected the integrity of the set (which would have upset my mother, btw) and therefore wasn't the right thing to do. On the other hand, I didn't feel at all troubled when a friend wanted a single grave rubbing for sentimental reasons (mom obtained it while they were travelling together), because that collection didn't need to stay together.
  • Figure out the mementos, furniture, etc. that would be appreciated and cherished by others, including your Mom. One thing that surprised me was how many people appreciated being given something to remember my mother by, e.g., not just her good friends, but her neighbors, the cousins from my generation, etc. Some of them wound up with pieces of furniture too or stuff they looked forward to using everyday, like cookware, by the way;
  • Decide what you want to keep and send to Portland. This process may include measuring locations at home and also measuring your sister's furniture;
  • Limit the stuff to deal with later to photographs and documents, and send that to Portland too since it doesn't sound like your mother will be up to processing them.
  • Hire a company to hold an estate sale to deal with the rest (and if you go this route, memail me and I can make some recommendations). The firm we hired was really respectful of my mother's antiques and set up all of her collections beautifully. They also researched the value of her things, including bringing in outside experts to advise on some of the more obscure stuff. Don't be there when it happens; I had to enter the fray mid-sale to sign car transfer documents and it's painful to watch people considering the stuff, let alone trying to bargain.

    Give consideration to the above and think about whether it will be nice to have everything sorted sooner rather than having it hanging over your head. It's true making all of these decisions within a short period will be exhausting, but you'll have deadlines (the rental term, the sale date, and you'll get it done once and for all, and that's priceless. And if the above isn't right for you, maybe it will help a future MeFite who comes across your question.

    Since you said it was a one bedroom apartment, regarding the movers, your choices boil down to two: a) a Boston-based mover who will fill a small truck with your sister's things, take them to Connecticut, unload them, and drive home, probably in a single very long day. Their truck will be small enough to fit on her street, if it's narrow, and to navigate the aisles of the storage unit in CT. You'll probably pay for man hours and mileage. b) a national mover (e.g., Mayflower, Allied, etc.) for whom your sister's stuff will be a partial load that may be transferred one or more times, from a small truck to the larger interstate truck (possibly with a stop in a warehouse in between) and then to a small truck for the last part of the trip to the storage unit. You'll pay a fee based on a formula that incorporates weight, volume and milage.

    Personally, I think the first way is better; less transfers means fewer opportunities for damage. They'll have the same protective blankets to tape around the furniture as the big guys. You may want to buy the blankets (I got some from UHaul) for a few dollars each) so they can stay wrapped around the furniture in the storage unit.

    The big guys will pack for you, but the small guys will also pack for you or can recommend independent contractors who will do it for you as well. Speaking of packing, the specialty boxes are worth it for delicate stuff like collectables, china and glassware. If you do it yourself, you can often find used boxes for sale at UHaul. Don't skimp on packing paper and splurge on their plain paper; it's really irritating getting newsprint all over everything if you don't.

    When it comes time to move stuff from the storage unit to Portland, you'll be dealing with the big guys. One thing about the big guys; their formulas are practically the same and they retain the right to adjust the price later (e.g., when they discover that they mis-estimated the weight), so if one gives you a dramatically lower estimate, make sure it sticks or you'll be surprised.

    If, however, you wind up deciding to move some stuff to CT and some stuff to Portland, it may be simplest to contract with a big guy as well as you will get a small break on the price and it will reduce the hassle of using two movers, e.g., spending more time in Cambridge, blocking the street or elevator twice, etc. In my case, we sent stuff to Portland, OR, LA, and Wisconsin with five stops all together. We worked very hard to ensure that the stuff was clearly labeled by destination (used both colors and numbers) and watched like hawks as they relabeled everything using their system. There were still a few small errors.

    I know I know a lot more about this that I'm not thinking of right now; if the above raises other questions, feel free to post or memail them and I'll do my best to be helpful. Again, condolences to you and all who will miss your sister.

  • posted by carmicha at 8:47 AM on October 5, 2018 [20 favorites]

    As hard as this is, I tend to agree with carmicha. It’s OK to decide that you don’t have the capacity to handle this much decision-making right now. However I think realistically, it is very common for people to feel that way for months and years, and that moving items to storage will enable years of delay. That’s also an OK way to feel, and an acceptable decision to make. However I encourage you to be aware of the most likely outcome given how other people have handled storage units with their loved ones’ belongings. Again, there is nothing wrong with taking a year+ to address her things left in storage - it’s quite common! But it is wise to be aware of what decision you’re making.

    My condolences for your loss. I know this must be very difficult.
    posted by samthemander at 9:46 AM on October 5, 2018

    In many areas, the people who run estate auctions can do all of this for you. They will decide what can be sold and what cannot, they will hold an auction to sell this stuff, and they will donate the rest or dispose of it, as the client directs.

    Do consult with a lawyer to make sure the legalities are met.
    posted by megatherium at 11:32 AM on October 5, 2018

    I am sorry for your loss. One small practical note: in Cambridge you can and should request a permit for the moving van, the city will reserve street parking for the movers. I agree you should be able to find a small mover local to Boston who can load and move to CT in a day, if that is your decision.
    posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:11 AM on October 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

    I'm sorry to hear of your sister's passing.

    If you are looking for a rec for a moving company, Gentle Giant was founded in the Boston metro area, has a good reputation, and has grown to have nationwide reach. They don't specifically mention CT and Portland, OR in their locations, but I notice they extend to New York and the Seattle area, so I would guess that your locations aren't out of their orbit.
    posted by Sublimity at 7:33 PM on October 8, 2018

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