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Clearing the family home from relatives who are squatting

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2017 | Estate Administration |

It can be a huge hassle for an estate administrator to force his or her own family members to move out of a deceased parent’s or other relative’s former home. But this might be necessary to manage the property and get it ready to put on the market. Because of familial ties, these individuals may press all the guilt buttons while continuing to squat on the property.

However, business is business. As estate administrator, you have the duty to preserve the full value of the estate. That may not be possible while unauthorized family members continue to occupy the property.

Assessing the situation correctly is critical

It’s vital to determine exactly what is going on with the property. Did this relative live on the property with the deceased for some time before the person’s demise? Did he or she move in to provide care and supervision during the decedent’s final illness, or had the individual been living there already, perhaps even for decades? Did he or she only move in after the former property owner passed away? Answering these questions allows you to formally define the relationship between the person and the property he or she is occupying.

Is the relative maintaining the property and paying the taxes and other expenses?

If someone is occupying a property and paying for its upkeep, e.g., making necessary repairs or improvements, paying the property insurance and taxes, keeping the grass cut, etc., these contributions could be viewed in the most positive light. After all, a vacant property is more likely to be vandalized or to fall into disrepair. The relative’s contributions may, in some cases, be construed as a form of rent.

Nonetheless, you may still need to insist that he or she relocates, despite the apparent reluctance to do so. But this scenario could affect the strategy you use. Rather than appearing heavy-handed and authoritarian, you might try to approach your relative with a spirit of cooperation. Let him or her know that you appreciate the efforts to maintain or improve the property “to get it ready to put on the market.” Ask whether their intent is to purchase the home from the estate and how you might be able to help facilitate that. This could mean contacting other heirs to discuss a buy-out, among other things.

Are you on the hook financially for all the expenses?

If, as estate administrator, you’re left paying all the household bills, insurance and property taxes, your tone and approach may need to be a bit different. Figure out exactly how much is spent monthly or annually to maintain this property. Put it in writing and show or send it to the occupying relative, requesting that he or she pays you or the estate back for these expenditures. Make sure that you do not use the term “rent” at any point, because you don’t want to establish a landlord-tenant situation when you are trying to sell a property on the market.

Turn to the law to for assistance

One of the difficulties associated with removing a relative from a decedent’s estate property is that you could be dealing with your own sibling or cousin. It’s natural to dread the bad blood your actions will cause. While that is understandable, as the repercussions could be permanent, it doesn’t negate your duties as estate administrator.

Many estate administrators in this situation turn to California probate attorneys to be the “bad guys” who oust these squatting relatives. This allows you to remove yourself from the most difficult of the proceedings, i.e., evicting the squatters, and may preserve what remains of your relationship with your relative(s).