When you inherit a house: real life versus the movies

When you inherit a house: real life versus the movies

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So your Great Aunt Phyllis has died and you inherit her house in Plymouth. It’s worth a lot of money and your boyfriend is pushing you to sell, but then this really cute and smart guy shows up and tells you that the house is on the site of the first Thanksgiving. Next thing you know, tourists start flocking to your door. Love and inheritance are in the air, and both are quite complicated.

Or, you get a call one day from someone telling you that you’ve inherited an old Victorian house. It’s your dream come true! With one catch: you only get half of the house. The other half belongs to a man you’ve never met and he wants to sell. But you’re in love with the house, and as time goes by you find you love the man, too. But uh oh! Your boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble…

These scenarios are actually the plots of the Hallmark TV movies The Thanksgiving House and All of My Heart, respectively. In real life, inheritance (not to mention love) is very complicated and takes a lot longer than 80 minutes to sort out. This is especially true since it’s rarely a long lost relative you inherit property from, which means that you’ll likely be dealing with huge financial issues on top of grief.

In the movies inheritance seems to always involve people who get the surprise of their lives when they learn that some long lost rich relative has left them a fortune. But, spoiler alert, that’s not how it usually works. In fact, inheriting a home often costs plenty of time and money.

Let’s say after you inherit the house you want to move in and live there. Moving costs are involved, obviously, and there will probably be money needed for updates and repairs. Then there’s what to do if you’re no the sole heir. Maybe your father left the house to all three of his children. If they’re cool with you living there, great. But you will need to compensate them. If one of your siblings says that HE should get the house, not you, you’ve got some domestic strife to sort out.

If no one wants to live in the house then selling it is probably your best option, though renting it out could be a good choice for you depending on the current real estate market and demand for rentals in your area.

Selling the house is also an option, especially if everyone involved agrees on the path forward. But selling a house isn’t easy and takes time. And there will be costs involved. Hiring a professional real estate agent, home inspector, not to mention contractors for updates and repairs — it all adds up.

But what if the house isn’t paid off? What if there are liens on the house or unpaid taxes? What if the house is upside down on the mortgage or in foreclosure? Are you saddled with all of this debt whether you want it or not? Thankfully, no. “Not everyone is happy to receive an inheritance. Depending on your personal situation, you might elect to refuse or disclaim a bequest made to you by a loved one for any number of reasons,” writes Beverly Bird for Legal Zoom. “The law recognizes these issues sometimes occur and you usually do not have to accept an inheritance if you don’t want to do so.”

Remember, most inheritances are not a surprise and are rarely from someone unknown. Talking with your family and having a plan for the future is the best way to make the inevitable end of life less difficult for everyone involved.


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