If you’re the executor of a relative’s or friend’s estate, one of their largest assets (in size and value) may be their home. Whether it’s a small condo or a sprawling house, if it will be empty, you need to take immediate steps to secure it.
That may mean changing the locks. That can be a highly unpopular decision with family members. However, until the will and other estate planning documents are reviewed, you can’t have people traipsing through taking whatever they think “belongs” to them. You can simply tell any grumbling relatives that you’re following the law.
You may want to install a home security system and notify the local police department or private security patrol if there is one. Make sure all doors and windows close and lock properly.
Don’t let the home look vacant
Unless you can be around every day, redirect the mail and other deliveries so things don’t pile up outside. If your loved one had a lawncare service (even if it was a neighbor), keep that for now.
Don’t cancel all utilities or garbage service yet since you’ll likely need to spend some time in the home clearing it out unless it was left to a beneficiary as-is. However, don’t leave any more things plugged in than necessary, and look around for possible fire or other hazards. Clean out the refrigerator and cabinets so food doesn’t attract bugs or rodents.
Be sure to keep up the homeowners’ insurance policy. However, make sure they’re informed that the home is vacant. They may only continue to insure it for a specified period. Pay property taxes if they’re due and take care of mortgage and homeowners’ association payments as long as the home is still in the deceased person’s name.
What does the will say about the home?
Often, people will stipulate in their will that they want their home and belongings sold and the proceeds returned to the estate. If that’s the case, it’s wise to begin that process immediately. If the home was left to someone specific, they should take over the responsibility as soon as possible.
Dealing with the home may be the largest responsibility you have as an executor – or it may be just the beginning of a multitude of challenges. It’s wise to have experienced legal guidance to help it all go as efficiently as possible.