There comes a time for many family caregivers when they must face not only the physical decline of their aging senior loved ones or perhaps the loss of those loved ones, but must also deal with an empty family home.
What should you do with the family home when your parents are no longer able to live there? Do you want to purchase it yourself and live there yourself, sell to another family member or sell it outright?
Cleaning out your senior loved ones’ personal belongings is wrenching enough without being forced to update and repair a home that has also aged. Your parent’s home may need many repairs before it can be put onto the real estate market. It may require costly renovations to make it marketable as well.
Many family caregivers find this more than they can handle emotionally, physically or financially.
Some Options for Dealing with a Senior Loved One’s Home
- Companies will buy your senior loved ones home from you and do all the repairs and then sell it. Generally this type of transaction is a quick cash buyout. Companies often handle the transaction within 15 days and will pay all closing costs and take the home as is. You can agree to accept the price they offer for the convenience of freeing yourself of the burden of doing it all yourself. Keep in mind that this sort of transaction typically produces a lower price in exchange for the convenience.
- Home moving companies can help you by packing up and moving your families’ belongings out of the family home for you. You will need to decide what items you wish to keep and which items to either sell or donate. You can have a yard sale or hire an estate sale agency to do it for you. Of course, if you move belongings you need to decide where to move them, be it into a family member’s home or into storage.
- If you decide to put your family home on the market and are doing it all from a distance, real estate agents can give you referrals to services in the area that will help you make this transition such as maintenance people, lawn care service, movers, bankers, lawyers, etc.
Actions to Consider During the Transition Period
- Pay the mortgage if there is one outstanding. If the mortgage is not paid on schedule, the lender can foreclose on the property. Many banks allow family members to assume the mortgage after the owner passes away.
- Consider talking with family members about what they think should be done and come to an agreement. This may save problems later, especially if there is a disagreement. Do they all want to sell, use it as a shared vacation home, buy it themselves or use it as rental property?
- Check your parents’ home insurance policy. Has it been kept up to date or has it lapsed for non-payment? If it remains in good standing, beware that insurance carriers are dropping customers whose homes are vacant for prolonged periods due to the increased risk a vacant home is due to vandals, liability issues and other potential events that can yield a claim. You may need to purchase a short term vacant-home policy to protect your assets until you make a final plan of action. If your parents’ home is vacant for 30-60 days, it could be excluded from any claim if the insurance company was not notified.
- Clean out the refrigerator and freezer, empty the dishwasher and take out the trash.
- Keep the home safe while no one is living there. If nobody will be using or visiting the home, you might want to consider turning off the utilities: water, gas and electricity.
- Stop the mail, newspapers and any other scheduled deliveries that could make the home a target if it appears vacant.
- Have someone visit the home frequently to keep an eye on things checking for unexpected deliveries, unscheduled papers, items in the mailbox, damage from a storm, fallen trees or leaves, insect or pest infestation, broken pipes, broken windows and other damage correction that may be needed.
- Have the grass cut during the season, leaves raked in the fall and snow or ice cleared in the winter and other routine maintenance to prevent liability issues and maintain an image of good home care. These also keep the home from looking vacant.
- You may consider having an alarm system installed so you will know if the home is breached.
Don’t Forget Legal Consideration
[You may want to consult an elder care lawyer to help you sort through the complicated legal issues so that you can protect yourself and your senior loved ones’ assets.]
- Have you talked to your parents about their finances? What were their wishes for the family home (often included in their will)?
- Do you know where the deed to the house is stored or other important papers? Do you have access to your senior loved ones’ legal documents? If they are in a safe deposit box, do you know which bank, who is allowed to gain entry and if there is a list of contents?
- Did your parents make a will, a financial plan for their assets, or a trust? Many people choose to prepare their own wills.
- Did your parents designate a financial power of attorney, an individual empowered to make legal decisions about their finances and assets on their behalf? Who is it and where is the document stored?
- Where is the home insurance policy kept, what company insures the home and where is the contact information?
- Be aware that only the person who owns the house can transfer it to a new buyer. If a power of attorney was designated, that person can sell the house if your senior is incapacitated. If no power of attorney was named, you probably cannot legally sell your parents’ home, according to elder law attorneys. You can apply for guardianship and then, if you get it, sell the home if your parent is mentally incapacitated without a power of attorney. If your parent has passed on, you typically must wait for probate to settle before you can take legal action.
- Be aware that title companies may not accept the power of attorney during a home sale and may wish to investigate it further before they approve the transfer.
Losing your senior loved one, whether due to incapacitation or death, can be overwhelming and we know the decisions that have to be made can be as well. Dealing with the family home requires help from others, such as family, lawyers, agencies and outside companies. Bringing them all together will take planning but will help you through the situation.
We wish you well!
We would love to hear your experiences if you have already dealt with this issue.