I have been a residential real estate broker for more than 30 years for LA’s Westside and the Beverly Hills area. When a home belongs to my client’s elderly parent – the one that mom or dad can no longer live in or care for – I sometimes inadvertently find myself playing the role of family counselor.
There are many crucial, immediate decisions to work through that can be emotionally heart-wrenching and logistically overwhelming. It is common – and understandable – to feel at a loss as to what to do when tasked with the care-taking of an aging parent’s home – most notably when the unexpected happens.
During my years as a broker, I have helped many of my clients deal with distressing events involving aging parents — including incapacity, illness or a sudden passing; events that prompt the immediate sale or rental of the home.
I have found these eight tips to be a practical means to taking first steps
- Contact your parent’s wills and estates attorney to see if your parent has proper documents in place.
If not, contact your own. Ask the attorney to review any documents to make sure that you and/or your siblings have the authority to act on your parent’s behalf.
If your mother or father does not have a trust or will, ask your own wills and estates attorney to assist with any probate court issues you may need to take care of (e.g. conservatorship status, etc.) so that your attorney is entitled to step in.
- If you have been named agent or trustee in your parent’s will, gather together all will and trust documents
Once you have secured the safety, security and well-being of your parents (doctor evaluation, assisted living care facility, or funeral arrangements) the real estate broker should help you explore your options for your family home.
For instance, selling the home may not be your best option. Work with your real estate agent to decide whether it is best to rent or sell.
If you decide to rent the house, first remove the furnishings, personal belongings and all fixtures and wall hangings that are important to you and your family. You can divide those items among family members and always in accordance with your parent’s wishes as spelled out in their will. If needed, you can put items in storage temporarily, and even consider having an estate sale at a later date.
- Contact the bank or mortgage holder
Your attorney can assist you with this by giving you a list of questions to ask the bank.
For starters, try to locate the last bank or mortgage statement to find the account number of the loan and the principal balance.
Your attorney can accompany you to meet with the bank or mortgage lender and help get the necessary paperwork in order (loan documents, title report, recorded deed, etc.) They will also make sure the paperwork coincides with your’s. Have your attorney or broker look into whether or not there are other loans and/or any liens against the property.
- Contact any service providers, insurance carriers, etc.
Cancel the non-essentials such as cable television, soft water delivery service, regular grocery couriers, dog groomers and so forth.
However, wait to cancel any utility provider such as water, gas and electricity or anyone who deals with the upkeep of the property such as the gardener.
If you sell the house, you will need to leave utilities on until escrow closes. You will also need to leave the alarm service connected, if there is one. (Nothing like a dark and empty house to attract burglars!)
If you have a smartphone device that controls the alarm system, you will not need to leave the landline telephone service connected.
Contact the home insurance carrier to let them know the status. The insurance policy should not be cancelled until the house is sold.
Also, all health insurance carriers should be contacted.
- Contact your parent’s bank to become an authorized signer on his or her account
You will likely continue to pay your parent’s household bills from their account until the house is sold or you turn it over to a tenant. The mortgage holder and the bank where your parents held a checking and savings account to pay that loan will likely not be the same financial institution.
- Contact the Social Security Administration
Your estate attorney should be asked what steps need to be taken to handle the receipt of these monthly payments and to use them to pay for your parent’s expenses, such as an assisted living care facility or continuation of making the house payment.
Or, if both your parents have now passed away, you will want to take the steps to terminate all such payments.
- Take the time to consult with your real estate broker or agent
Ask all your questions – as many as you need. What the market value is, what you are likely to get for the house, when to list it (time of year), how to stage it (with or without your family furnishings), a comparison of what the costs will be to sell versus to rent it and the basic steps and processes that will take place as you work through this transition.
At this point, it would be wise for you to reach out to your parent’s CPA to review tax returns for items that relate to the house.
Advice and paperwork – your parent’s files will be essential in gathering costs and expenses associated with the house. Together, your parent’s CPA, your CPA and your real estate agent can all assist in helping you make the most prudent and sensible financial and personal decisions about whether to sell or rent.
- Consult with the rest of your family
If only one sibling from the family has been named to act as agent on the parents’ behalf, it can create challenges within the family.
Whether or not your siblings will resent your role as commander in chief, I counsel my clients to try their best to include them.
The types of decisions that often create challenges can include the type and/or quality of your parent’s care, and financial appropriations. Family members may feel, whether deservedly or not, that decisions were made arbitrarily by one sibling without including the others.
I always suggest to my clients that they also seek the comfort and advice of a trusted adviser (other than those already mentioned) whether it is a family physician, a family therapist, mental health professional or the go-to religious family mentor to help them emotionally and spiritually as they navigate through these difficult times.