Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

January 17, 2014

Reiss on Death and Mortgages

By David Reiss quoted me in What Happens to Your Mortgage After Death? It reads in part,

Death isn’t on the minds of most homeowners on closing day, naturally, unless it’s a fear of drowning in paperwork. But it’s really never too early to consider what happens to your mortgage should you pass away.

The financial obligation of a home loan does linger after death. There’s a host of scenarios regarding the mortgage’s ultimate disposition, all colored by a homeowner’s estate planning (or lack thereof) and other legal issues.

It isn’t a particularly pleasant topic, but a little bit of planning and paperwork can save your loved ones from considerable headache and hassle during an already difficult time.

“If you’re really thinking about your family’s long-term interests, purchase insurance so they can stay in your home upon your death, and have a will to make everything administratively easy,” said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

Keeping the House

Nearly seven in 10 recent homebuyers are married couples, according to the National Association of Realtors, so we’ll focus on them. The co-borrowing spouse will typically be financially liable for the mortgage moving forward.

A spouse who plans to continue living in the home will need to keep current on payments. If you have a life insurance policy in play, your spouse may be able to use the payoff to keep up with or completely wipe out the mortgage balance.

Reiss recommends homeowners consider term life plans rather than actual mortgage term insurance, which can be more expensive.

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Older Homeowners

About a third of people 65 and older have a mortgage, according to the U.S. Census. For older homeowners, it’s important to talk with family members about the property’s long-term future.

Children and grandchildren may not share the same desire to keep a house in the family.

“Do you see it as something your family wants to keep?” Reiss said. “You want to make that as financially easy for them as possible.”

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