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What happens to tenants after a property owner dies?

As people get older, they often share their home with others. Sometimes these are family members or friends who help care for them so that they can avoid having to move into an assisted living facility. In other cases, they rent out a room or guest house to bring in some extra income. Some people maintain one or more rental properties in addition to their own homes.

Whatever the situation, if a loved one dies, you may be faced with the responsibility as the estate's administrator of determining what will happen to these occupants -- particularly if they are living in the home and have access to your deceased loved one's belongings. As the person with responsibility for the estate, you need to safeguard those and the property as a whole. You may need to prepare the house for sale or to turn over to a beneficiary per the terms of the will or trust.

First, you need to determine whether the occupants have a legal right to live there. While a valid lease agreement would give them that right, they may be legal occupants even without a written agreement in place. For example, if the occupants were paying rent, they have what's called a "periodic tenancy at will."

If a property is part of a trust, the decedent may have stipulated in that trust that specific people are allowed to continue living in the home after his or her death. If that's the case, the trust likely includes language about the occupants' responsibilities for the property (like payment for utilities, maintenance and other expenses.)

Before you take any action, formally or informally, to get occupants out of a home after someone has died, it's essential that you consult with the attorney for the estate. If your loved one didn't have an estate plan or any other documentation like a will or trust, talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to help determine the best course of action available under California law.

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