My elderly dad lost his wife eight months ago. They owned their home as tenants-in-common, with the agreement that if one of them passed, the remaining spouse would have 18 months to buy the rest of the house or sell the property. How do we proceed? – HESITANT DAUGHTER
DEAR HESITANT: The pressure of a deadline is a lot to deal with at this difficult and emotional time.
I’m sure your dad and his wife put a lot of thought into the 18-month window they provided for the surviving partner to decide their next move. It may seem like having a “ticking clock” in the background puts undue stress on your father, but at the same time, his wife’s estate needs to be settled, since her heirs cannot derive any benefit from her investment until its future has been decided.
To clarify for our readers, “tenants-in-common” ownership means your dad and his wife bought the property as partners. In this arrangement, each tenant owns a set portion of the property. If one of them passes, the late tenant’s share is retained by their estate, rather than having it transfer automatically to the surviving owner. If this was a second marriage for your dad, the arrangement makes a lot of sense, as it allows his wife to leave her investment to her own children or heirs.
At this point, your dad will need to decide what the next chapter of his life will look like. First and foremost, he’ll want to consider whether owning this home still makes sense. Is he physically and financially capable of handling the property on his own? Can he do it with help? Cleaning, landscaping and snow removal can easily be outsourced, so it really comes down to his own personal preference. Keeping seniors in their homes as long as possible is ideal, and help is available to make this work if there is room in the budget.
If you dad wants to stay in the house, he’ll need to have an appraiser put a value on it. I suggest he work with his wife’s executor to find an appraiser they are both comfortable with. Depending on what is written in the will, your dad will either have to pay current market value for his wife’s portion of the home, or he may be able to purchase it for what it was worth at the time of her passing (the appraiser can establish both of these values). The role of the executor is to maximize the value of the estate, but if the estate is paying capital gains, the executor may be willing to let your dad buy his wife’s half of the house at the lower price. Be sure to have this conversation.
If the executor is determined to squeeze every last drop of equity from the home, you’ll want to lock in its value today (assuming that housing prices continue to rise). When a selling price has been established, your dad will need to figure out if he has the means to qualify for a mortgage. If he doesn’t, the house will be sold, and he’ll need to decide where to go next.
PRO TIP: If a move is in the cards for your father, I encourage you to start weighing options immediately. As a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES), I find my seasoned clients cope better with transition when they know where they are going. #AskDavid #Advice