By Howard Collens
In this issue of “Ask the Expert” Michigan estate planning attorney, Howard Collens shares tips on how to prevent family disputes after inheriting a home.
When a loved one passes away, whether it was expected or unexpected, it often takes a toll on the friends and family of the decedent. On top of the grieving process, someone, usually a family member or spouse, will have to take the responsibility of handling the estate. Whether the estate is small or large, if the decedent died with a will or without, the probate process is often required in order to properly distribute a decedent’s property and pay their debts and taxes.
As we all know, family dynamics can have many intricacies and people don’t always get along. Disputes can arise even among the closest of family members during the difficult time after a loved one passes. Questions such as “Who gets what?” and “Will I get my fair portion?” are quite common, whether there was a will or not. If you’re the personal representative (executor) of a decedent’s estate and someone desires to contest it, the court proceedings can be time consuming and costly. An estate contest can involve challenges to a decedent’s will, trust, life insurance or retirement beneficiary designations, bank accounts, or deeds to property. It’s very important as a personal representative to keep organized records of all the decedent’s assets, including any real estate they owned.
Residential and vacation properties are often part of a decedent’s assets. After death, the decedent’s beneficiaries and/or children may fight over the property regarding new ownership or how the property will be managed and distributed. If there was a will, check to see if there is a section on real property and how the decedent wanted it to be handled. If there is no section, or if there was no will, you will need to know how the property was owned. Did the decedent own the property solely or with a spouse? Was it titled as joint tenants with right of survivorship or tenants in common with no rights of survivorship? This information can usually be found on the recorded deed. Other important things to know about the property include when it was purchased or whether the decedent took out a loan to purchase or make improvements to the residence. If so, those loan terms will need to be taken into consideration.
Disputes over title to a decedent’s real property are not uncommon. Even if the person contesting the estate did not have interest in the property, they still may wish it to be determined as an estate asset. Real estate conveyances may be subject to challenges regarding fraud, mistake, lack of mental capacity, or undue influence. For example, someone may claim that the decedent lacked mental capacity when they signed a deed that transferred their property to someone after their death.
Obviously, contested estate matters can be very complex and each situation is different. If there is real estate involved, it can get even messier. It’s important to have an attorney who will speak on your behalf to opposing counsel so that the situation won’t escalate more than it already has. If you own real estate, it is imperative that you know what you’d like to happen to the property after your death, and that you plan accordingly.
About Howard H. Collens
Howard H. Collens, as an attorney and counselor, listens to his clients, understands their goals and offers creative, effective solutions to meet their needs.
He advises clients in estate planning for estates of every size. Focusing on the unique aspects of each representation, Mr. Collens tailors trusts, wills and powers of attorney to meet the present and changing needs of his clients. Howard can be reached at 248-284-1990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.