Family Head Passed Away: Will I Become Homeless?

Death within the family doesn’t happen very often nor is it expected beforehand. What escalates this tragic event even further is the sudden death of the family head. How do you secure the property lease?

Family head passed away

First, if you’re here because your family head or another loved one passed away, I’m truly sorry.

Although this may be a rough period on well-being and emotions, it’s important to focus on the bureaucracies that will come as a consequence in the meanwhile. Those never wait to catch you off guard.

Feeling lost is part of the process, it’s a lot to take in. The responsibility of closing out the deceased’s life will fall on your shoulders and it’s by no means an easy task.

At your aid, this article from aarp delineates the immediate and posterior steps to take after dealing with death, make sure to check it out.

One of the first tasks to tackle after the shock is the property lease, especially if the family head who passed away was the tenant.

So how do you go about taking care of not becoming homeless?

Reach Out to The Landlord

Start by contacting the landlord to inform him/her the family head passed away.

Check for a copy of the lease or rent payment registers if you’re unsure how to reach him or her.

If none of these options are viable, check with another tenant in the building. As last resort, public record should have information on the property’s responsible party listed.

Make sure to get a hold of the tenancy-related paperwork containing the lease’s terms, ask the landlord for a copy if you don’t have it. This is important to know what you’re working with.

Some lease contracts present a last month’s rent provision which can buy you some time to work things out.

What Happens After Notifying the Landlord?

The lease will not automatically end after the family head (tenant) passes away. The deceased tenant’s possessions and debt will be transferred to the next of kin or to the estate which the landlord can hold accountable for any unpaid rent within the lease terms.

In order to succeed your relative as the new tenant, you’re required to prove that you’ve lived with the family head for at least two years prior to the date he or she passed away.

If you’re already on the lease as a co-tenant, you won’t have to do much to take over. If not, the deceased’s estate will “occupy” the property, not as physical occupancy but as a legal one until the end of the contract.

The landlord cannot live in the property or put someone else in it in the meanwhile.

If the family head didn’t leave a will and the situation is unclear, the matter may need to go to surrogate’s court in order to determine whether you or another family member can be appointed the holder of the deceased’s estate.

Do I Qualify for Succession Rights?

The nature of your relationship with the family head will matter, qualifying family members for succession rights are spouses, children, stepchildren, parents, stepparents, siblings, step-siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, and children-in-law. If the deceased was your uncle or cousin, you’re out of luck.

How to prove Succession Rights?

Make your intentions official and clear from the start by notifying the landlord via certified mail.

Explain the reason why you qualify for succession rights and that you would like to take over the lease agreement.

Why Do Some Landlords Put up a Fight?

You might think that your permanence in the property will bring nothing but benefits to the landlord because he or she will be receiving an unbroken rent payment stream.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Maybe the family head who passed away was paying the initial amount listed on the agreement and the property’s market price went up since then.

In this scenario, even if you have the right of succession some landlords will stop at nothing to get rid of your presence in their property just to get more profit.

The landlord may also put pressure on you by presenting a rent increase, under these circumstances, carefully look at the paperwork and see if there’s anything that gives the landlord the right to exert such pressure.

As last resort, consult with a tenant lawyer if need be. Landlords don’t always play by the rules and the same is true the other way around.

It’s in your best interest to look at the possibilities within the law.

The Bottom Line

Depending on the landlord, the process of taking over a lease agreement after the family head passes away may be either a breeze or a mess.

Make sure you’re targeting all the correct steps from your end by this order:

1 – Inform the landlord as soon as possible through a fast way of contact.

2 – Make sure you qualify for succession rights to take over.

3 – Send the landlord an official written communication via certified mail explaining your intentions.

4 – Read the lease agreement as many times as needed.

5 – Work the details either with the landlord or a lawyer if a disagreement emerges.

Are you or have you been on a similar process? We’d like to hear from you.


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