What Happens to a Mortgage After the Owner Dies?

On behalf of The Law Office of Wickersham and Bowers posted in Estate Planning on Monday May 8th, 2022.

Though you’re probably preoccupied with a million other things after a loved one has died, you’ll have to address one crucial topic: “What happens to the house?”

A will or probate is often used to determine who gets a home when a homeowner passes away. But what about a house with a loan on it? Are your relatives liable for your mortgage debts if you pass away? What happens to the surviving family members who are still living in the house?

The word mortgage is derived from a French term that means “death pledge” — meaning a mortgage does not simply vanish when the lien holder passes away. The lender still needs to be paid, or they will likely foreclose on the home. If the property has outstanding home equity loans or lines of credit, the same rules apply. A mortgage is a lien that lasts until the loan is paid off, even if the borrower passes away.

Who Assumes The Payment?

If a mortgage has a co-borrower or co-signer, the solution is straightforward: the other party can keep making payments on the loan.

If the deceased has a surviving spouse, federal law permits them to take over the mortgage instead of paying the full total back to the lender. They will need to show financial ability and creditworthiness, however.

If the deceased leaves the title to someone else, this person only acquires the title to the property, not the mortgage. The inheritor has no personal obligation to make loan payments until the assuming process is completed because the person’s credit isn’t tied to the loan installments. They aren’t legally obligated to repay the loan.

If none of these scenarios apply and no one takes over the mortgage, the mortgage servicer will begin the foreclosure process.

Have the Conversation

Numerous things go into end-of-life preparations. It’s crucial to think about how your choices today will impact your loved ones once you’re gone.

Consider any other debts you may leave for your family after you die, in addition to your mortgage. Although discussing your mortality isn’t often the most uplifting issue, doing so now may provide you and your loved ones with some peace of mind in the future.

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