Not just once, not even twice, but three times. That is how many times in my career that a client has passed away in the middle of the sale of their home. What are the odds? Before jumping to conclusions and assuming that I must have some morbid reaper alter ego who is to blame, allow me to defend myself. In all three instances, the home was being sold because the seller was no longer in a position to care for either the home or themselves, thus the reason for needing to sell the home in the first place. That, coupled with the length of time I have been doing this real estate gig, should exonerate me.
Undeniably, however, it was a shock. The last time just occurred three days ago. I received a text from the daughter-in-law: “Jen, call me as soon as possible.” This was not followed by a winky face or even a dancing girl emoji. This usually means it is serious. I called immediately.
“Jen, Mom passed away this morning.”
“Oh no,” I replied, “I am so sorry to hear that. How are you both doing? What do you need from me to help?”
She was somewhat frantic. “This really wasn’t expected. She got into a slight altercation last night with another resident over a game. She elbowed him and fell down while doing so. This resulted in a broken hip. Before they could do anything for her, she quietly passed away.”
For the record, that is probably how I will go. “How does the other guy look?” I asked.
“Not good. She packed a pretty solid punch with that elbow.” Good for her. She then went on to express her concern over the sale of the home. We were less than a week from closing. She was worried this would delay the sale and the buyers would back out.
“This is no problem at all,” I assured her. “The home was put into her trust and your husband and step-daughter are the executors. They are the ones that have been making the decisions up to this point concerning her estate; this won’t change anything. Title will need a copy of the death certificate and we will proceed as planned.
This is a far cry from a recent conversation I had with a seller. As the daughter and son-in-law were getting the home ready to sell, they called me to list it. When they explained that their mom had just passed away, I asked if she had a trust. “Yes, but she didn’t put the home in the trust.” Oh dear.
I advised her that she would need to contact a trust attorney who was familiar with real estate law. Hopefully it wouldn’t need to go all the way through probate, but I couldn’t determine that; only the attorney could.
Probate is a process that, if at all possible, needs to be avoided. It is costly, time consuming and all encompassing. It can go on for an extensive period of time. Basically, it turns the estate over to the court to determine how the deceased person’s debts and assets are allocated.
Here is just a bit of free, unsolicited information about the courts. They are slow, overbooked, impersonal and, frankly, uncaring. A trust, on the other hand, allows the decision to be made by the person who owns the assets in the first place. It only takes a couple of hours at most, and it will make for a far less stressful and overwhelming task for family and loved ones when the end does come. The time would be far better spent celebrating a life lived well and mourning a loss.