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Most people expect to pay off their mortgage and live in their house during retirement. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go according to plan. If a homeowner dies before paying off the mortgage, it could have implications for the estate and the person’s heirs. Discussing the future and preparing for that possibility can make the transition easier on family members.

Who Is Responsible for Mortgage Payments After the Borrower’s Death?
After a homeowner dies, the loan still needs to be repaid. Heirs who were not party to the mortgage are not financially responsible for making payments, but those payments will still need to be made in one way or another to avoid having the house go into foreclosure.

If the homeowner has a surviving spouse who co-signed the mortgage, he or she becomes responsible for payments. Another individual who co-signed the loan will be responsible for making payments, regardless of whether that person has an ownership stake in the house.

If there is no co-signer, other family members can choose to take responsibility for the mortgage and refinance the loan to get better terms. If they’re unable or unwilling to take on the mortgage, the executor can use funds from the estate to pay off the loan, or the house can be sold.

If the house sells for more than the amount owed on the mortgage, the balance can be used to pay off debts or can be passed on to heirs. If the house is worth less than the amount owed, the executor may negotiate a short sale or allow the house to go into foreclosure. If the owner had a reverse mortgage, the loan will need to be paid off after all borrowers have died or moved out of the house. If family members pay off the loan, they can keep the house.

Estate Planning Options
If possible, the homeowner can set aside money in a savings account or another financial instrument that family members can access after his or her death. That will help them continue to make mortgage and tax payments until they decide whether to keep or sell the house.

Life insurance can provide funds that can be used to pay off a mortgage in the event of the homeowner’s death. That can allow heirs to stay in the house debt-free or to move out and start over.

In some cases, it might make sense to put the house in a trust or an LLC or to add relatives’ names to the title to avoid the time and expense of going through probate. It’s important to discuss the legal and tax implications with an attorney and an accountant.

Talk to Your Family
Death is inevitable. The better family members plan for it, the smoother the transition will be for surviving relatives. Whether you own a home or a loved one does, have an honest discussion and seek advice from professionals so you can make the best decisions as a family.

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