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Financing

I Inherited a Mortgage. What Can I Do?

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Most homeowners have mortgages, and all homeowners die eventually. And, if a homeowner dies with an outstanding mortgage loan, the mortgage company still expects to be paid. Whether the balance owed will be due all at once or can be paid off over time depends on who inherits the home and the state where the deceased's estate is being administered.

Who will owe?

If someone dies owing money on a conventional mortgage, the mortgage company must usually be formally notified of the death as part of the probate process. However, if the deceased transferred his or her home to a living trust, such notice may be optional. (Sometimes the loan documents require it.)

If the home is owned by spouses and one of them dies, the mortgage company may allow the surviving spouse to make payments without interference since the loan had been extended to both parties.

If, however, the property is inherited by someone else, such as the deceased's children, or if the home was just in the name of the deceased, the mortgage company may require the new owner to refinance the mortgage or pay the entire loan balance owed within a fairly short period of time. If the new owner is unable to meet its demand, the lender can foreclose on the home. (If the home was ultimately lost to foreclosure, that should not affect the credit of the "heir" because the heir was never personally obligated to pay the mortgage.) Flexibility on the part of the mortgage company in these circumstances is difficult to predict.

What should I do if I can't pay?

Sometimes, people do not notify the mortgage company of a mortgage holder's death and simply continue paying the loan. This scenario might happen, for example, if the heir to the home has bad credit, cannot afford to refinance or, alternately, pay the entire balance due, and yet wants to hold on to the house.

This strategy, however, could blow-up in the heir's face should the mortgage company discover the ruse because the mortgage documents themselves will allow a foreclosure if the company is not notified of the death within a specific period of time.

All 50 states have laws that regulate mortgages at death. The very best option is to consult with an experienced estate attorney in the state where the home is located. That way, you can learn what specific options you may have.

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This article was written by Brad Wiewel and originally published on Credit.com.

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