When a death in the family leaves a home unoccupied, the loved ones are usually left to deal with it. The family home is often far more than a piece of real estate, and emotions can run high when survivors take on the task of deciding what to do with it. There are rules about property like a home that should be learned and followed, so read on for an explanation of the common tasks that those left behind must attend to when it comes to dealing with the family home.

Who inherits the home?

If the deceased was unmarried and the real estate deed had no other living people attached to it then the home is commonly lumped in together with the rest of the estate. As the family of the deceased, the probate court will likely appoint a personal representative (or executor) to oversee the probate process unless the will has already done so.

Is there a trust?

It's a good idea to ascertain the existence of a trust before you take probate action since any provision in the trust that deals with real estate (or anything else) override any provisions in a will. For example, a will may have remained silent on the family home, or it might have appointed a beneficiary but if there is mention of the home in a trust then that will provision is null and void. Trust documents can usually be located in the same place that a will might: in a safe or safe deposit box at the bank.

The home during probate

The family home is an important asset and should be well-maintained during the time between the death and the final probate orders. With many families, the home is the most valuable piece of the estate, so the personal representative is tasked with ensuring that the home is kept safe from hazards and that it maintains its value during the several-month-long probate process. Note the following common real estate-related tasks that might need to be accomplished:

1. Have the home appraised by a professional real estate appraiser and provide the appraisal to the probate court.

2. Pay property taxes, condo maintenance fees, homeowner's association fees, mortgage payments, and other regular home-related expenses.

3. Keep the grass cut and make any vitally-needed repairs, such as keeping the major systems of the house running smoothly.

Once probate is over

The disposition of a home inherited by several people (if there are siblings) can be tricky and requires a deft and sensitive touch. The survivors will need to agree on selling or keeping it and then if it is kept what to do with it. One sibling might buy the others out, or other property may be traded for it.

Speak to the estate planning attorney to learn more about dealing with a family home after a death in the family.