Disclosing death on a property

Disclosing death on a property - woman completing paperwork with image of house in the backgroundDisclosing death on a property is required in California home sales for 3 years after the person passes. The Seller Property Questionnaire asks if the seller is aware of:

Within the last 3 years, the death of an occupant of the property upon the property (yes / no)

(Note to seller: The manner of death may be a material fact to the Buyer, and should be disclosed, except for a death by HIV / AIDS.)

Some points to note regarding this form and disclosing death on a property:

  • The question does not say “in the house” or “in the garage”, but upon the property. Included is anywhere within the property boundaries.
  • If someone died further back than that, the seller is obligated to answer truthfully if a buyer asks if there was ever a death on the property.
  • Oddly, it specifies “an occupant” of the property rather than any death at all. I suspect that any death would be of interest to a buyer, and possibly a material fact. An attorney would be the best person to answer that question.

Deaths from crimes, or which would be a stigma, such as a suicide or murder, should be disclosed even if it’s been more than 3 years since that’s an issue which may materially impact value or desirability. There’s no question on the disclosure forms that asks this. It falls under the general requirement to disclose anything that a buyer may be  seriously concerned about, such as a stigma.

What about disclosing death on a property which is part of a condo complex?

First, it’s important to understand that detached homes, townhomes, and condo units that look like apartments can all be condominiums – condos are a type of ownership. They aren’t an architectural style. The comments below MAY apply to townhomes, or possibly other types of structures, if that home is held in condo ownership.

With condominium ownership, the owner owns the interior airspace of the living area (sometimes also the garage, but sometimes not) and owns a percentage of the common areas of the parcel. The condo owner is a partial owner of the entire parcel or property.

If there’s a death in a condo complex in the common area, will that be shared in the disclosures? It should be, whether the death was inside the unit for sale or anywhere within the common area of the parcel boundaries.
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When a parent, spouse or loved one dies – what do you need to know or do about the house?

Death and Real Estate - Dealing with a Property after A Loved One DiesWhen a parent, spouse or loved one dies and he or she owned a home, there’s a lot for the survivors to do in addition to the very real and painful process of mourning. I have been through this with my own parents (and their house in Saratoga), a great aunt in Willow Glen, and many clients in San Jose, Los Gatos, Palo Alto, and elsewhere in Silicon Valley.

Quick summary of what to do regarding the home first and soon when a loved one dies:

  1. Engage the help of of an attorney and tax professional within the first 30 days or so. Sometimes there are deadlines or goal dates that will help the beneficiaries, and if people take too long to connect with these professionals, some opportunities may close.
  2. Some attorneys are also tax professionals, but most likely these will be different people.
  3. A professional valuation of the home will be needed, usually done by a licensed appraiser, but sometimes a real estate professional can do a market analysis that is acceptable. The home does not have to be empty or cleaned out to have this done.
  4. If you need the names of good tax and legal professionals, feel free to reach out to your real estate agent (or to me, if you are local). Most of us have worked with trust situations and can provide names. Or ask friends and family who’ve recently gone through the same situation and were happy with the people that they hired.
  5. You will need several copies of the certified death certificate. Discuss how many with your tax and legal professional. If you sell or transfer the home, the title company will need it and it will be recorded with the county.

Death, dying, & real estate: where to begin when a loved one dies?

In terms of settling the estate, it is wise to first speak with an attorney and tax professional about the property to find out what is required and advisable.

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