Q: My father recently died, and friends and family members have come by the house to ask for his things. I don’t even know some of these people. How do I deal with this?
I say call bullshit and keep everything. Here's why.
Immediately after a death is just an unfair time for people to come to you with these demands. I encourage you to create some space for yourself to give thoughtful consideration to these requests. If you can't handle the pressure at the moment, then say that. I would just say “Hey, can we connect on this later? I’m not in a place right now to deal with it.”
What you need to know about this uncomfortable situation is that you have the control. You may not feel like you do, but the fact that they are asking you proves the point.
You need to able to give full and careful consideration to the issue, and make the decisions that you want to do, not that you feel forced to do. If you are feeling pushed or unsure, that's an indication that you need more time. Trust your gut. Ultimately, these assets are in your possession. You control where they go. You are probably still thinking of those things as “his,” and of course you want to honor his wishes. But the fact is--and I say this gently--he’s no longer alive and so these aren’t his things anymore. They belong to his heirs, and it sounds like that’s you.
It’s highly possible that your father never made those promises in the first place. Do your visitors have anything written or recorded on that item being theirs? If not, it’s heresay.
In that case, this might actually be a cool opportunity to hear some stories about your dad that would be really great to know. So, ask questions about the item. Take control of the situation and participate in a discussion. Maybe your father’s friend spent months helping him rebuild the engine on that ‘62 powder-blue Corvette, helping him source parts, and after beers one night your grateful dad said the car would go to him. That would be a story you want to hear.
Even if your father did make verbal promises, that doesn’t mean that you need to give these things away. Maybe your father had no idea what he was giving up, or maybe he was depressed. If he was suffering from a terminal illness he may not have been in his full right mind.
Know that there are also legal components to giving away items from your father’s house. Who is in control of the estate? Legally, that person is responsible for all items being documented for the probate process, before anyone starts divvying them up.
So, I say hang onto everything for the moment. It’s far harder to convince someone you made a wrong choice and you want an item back than it is to tell them, “This is going to stay with us for now.” Take your time and don’t let anyone rush you. Nobody ever regrets a thoughtful decision.