How Can an Heir Avoid Paying the Mortgage of a Deceased Parent?

by Van Thompson
If you can't pay the mortgage, you'll likely need to sell the home.

No one wants to think about money when they're grieving the death of a parent. But mortgages are an unfortunate reality of many inheritances, with the Census Bureau reporting in 2011 that 31 percent of people over the age of 65 have mortgages. If you don't want to pay your parent's mortgage, you'll either have to sell the house or pay the mortgage out of the estate.

The Probate Process

You might have a few weeks or months to contemplate your options, because the house won't be your responsibility until the will is probated. If you have multiple siblings, you might each inherit a portion of the house, rendering you each equally responsible. You could have to buy the other heirs out if you want the entire house, and this can be a costly undertaking.

Selling the House

If you can't afford to pay the mortgage and there's little or no money in the estate, your only option may be to sell the house. Just as you can buy out other heirs, though, they can also buy you out, so if you have siblings, consider asking them if they want to buy your portion of the house. Otherwise, you or the estate will be stuck paying the mortgage until the home sells.

Paying From the Estate

Until ownership transfers to you and you assume the mortgage, the estate will be responsible for paying for the house. If you inherit all or a portion of the estate, you can use the money to continue paying the mortgage even after you take ownership. You can sell your parent's possessions and other property to cover the mortgage, and funds in your parent's bank accounts and investments may also help you cover the expense without paying out of pocket.

Money-Saving Options

If you're desperate to keep the house but can't afford the mortgage, refinancing might be an option for lowering the monthly payments and extending the life of the loan. If there's money in the estate but not enough money to fully cover the mortgage, consider paying part of the mortgage out of the estate and the other portion out of your own pocket.

Underage Inheritance

If you're under the age of majority -- 18 in almost every state -- you won't be able to directly inherit a mortgage or sell the house. Instead, you'll have to rely on a trustee or administrator. Usually the person from whom you're inheriting will designate such a person, but otherwise the probate court will select a person. This person has significant control over what happens to the property and may opt to sell it -- even without your permission. However, you are entitled to any proceeds from the sale.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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