Take Four Steps When Resident Who Lived Alone Passes Away
When dealing with the death of a resident, you must remain sensitive to the family and friends of the deceased but also carefully follow legal procedures. We’ll tell you what steps you must take to deal with the deceased resident’s body and belongings. We’ll explain how you can best assist a relative or close friend of the deceased in fulfilling his duties as the deceased’s representative or estate administrator. And we’ll give you a Model Letter: Contact Deceased Person’s Representative to Handle Estate, which you can adapt and send to the deceased’s representative. Your letter will tell the representative that he may have to continue paying rent after the resident’s death, and how much time he has to remove the deceased resident’s belongings from the unit.
In addition, we’ll give you a Model Site Rule that you can add to your Resident Guide or Tenant Selection Plan to gain the right to remove a deceased resident’s belongings and charge for removal and storage.
Step #1: Arrange for Removal of Deceased Resident’s Body
If you find a resident’s body in a unit, immediately call 911 to bring local police to the unit. Although it may appear that the resident has died, you must get the authorities to verify the death. Usually paramedics will arrive first (although procedures vary by state), and they will notify the police department.
The police department will conduct an investigation and notify the Coroner’s Office (also known as the Medical Examiner). If it’s clear to the police that the death was due to natural causes, the investigation will be short. But if the police suspect otherwise, they will question other residents living close to the unit to learn whether they saw or heard anything unusual.
The police will ask for any emergency contact information you have on file for the deceased resident. Generally, the police will use that information to notify the deceased resident’s representative or they will instruct you or the Coroner’s Office to do so.
After the authorities have okayed the removal of the deceased resident’s body from the site, the next problem is identifying who will be responsible for removing belongings from the unit. The process may go smoothly if the contact person is a relative of the deceased. But the resident may have listed a relative without his or her knowledge, and that relative may choose not to become involved. Or a relative may take only belongings of interest to him, leaving you the key to the unit along with the problem of disposing of everything left there.
Rather than naming a relative, the resident may have listed a close friend as the emergency contact. This may result in a conflict if a relative chooses to take an interest. If you’re unclear about who should be given access to the unit, let the police department or local Public Administrator resolve the legalities. (The Public Administrator would get involved if a resident failed to provide an emergency contact.)
Your position should be that anyone seeking access to the unit must provide you with documentation of her right to do so. Protect yourself by advising conflicting parties that you will abide by the decision of the police department or Public Administrator. If you’re unsure of the particular procedures to follow in your area, consult an attorney.
Sometimes a resident will give you a copy of his Last Will and Testament, which can ease the process of removing the deceased resident’s belongings.
Practical Pointer: You should try to obtain a resident’s emergency contact information by move-in. And get the resident’s permission, in advance, to give that information to professionals who can help you later. Emergency contacts should be part of your initial information gathering process when providing a unit, and that information should be updated each year at recertification. Getting the information up front will make it easier for you to conclude matters when a sole resident dies.
Step #2: Secure Deceased Resident’s Unit
It’s your responsibility to protect the resident’s personal property until an executor is named. You’re also protecting yourself, since you don’t want heirs accusing you of making off with any belongings. Here are the basics:
- Secure the property, locking all doors and windows. If legally permitted, change the locks. This is a good idea because if you don’t change the locks and belongings are removed without authorization, then your staff could be accused of having taken them. By changing the locks, you protect not only the unit and the belongings in it but also your staff.
- Take a video of the property and its condition upon your entrance.
- Don’t let the deceased’s family or friends inside without accompanying them, and don’t let them take anything.
- Once the court names an executor, provide that person with a key. The executor is in charge of the tenant’s personal property and is the individual you deal with regarding estate matters. Make sure you see proof of executor status.
State law dictates how much time an authorized person has to remove a deceased resident’s belongings from the unit. The amount of time available to remove belongings can be 14 to 45 days, after which the deceased resident’s belongings will have to be stored or disposed of in accordance with applicable state law.
If the representative doesn’t live in the area and must travel a long distance to the site, she may request extra removal time or storage until she can collect the belongings. Consult an attorney about these requests. It’s also a good idea to become familiar with state and local laws regarding removal and/or storage of a resident’s belongings.
Having a version of our Model Site Rule in your Resident Guide or Tenant Selection Plan can help you anticipate the problem of getting paid when a representative requests that you hold a deceased resident’s belongings in storage. If the deceased resident’s representative is a close friend and not a relative, he may not know what to do with the belongings, especially if he’s aware of the existence of relatives. If you have a copy of the resident’s Will, there may not be a problem. But if a dispute over the belongings arises between a friend and a relative of the resident, tell them that you will abide by the decision of the local authorities, such as the police department (just as you did concerning access to the unit). As a site manager, you’re not responsible for settling disputes about who now owns the deceased resident’s belongings.
Step #3: Send Letter to Representative Handling Estate
You’re required to inform the representative of the cost if he requires more than the legally allowable number of days to clear out the unit. Discuss this matter verbally first. Then send a letter detailing the daily rental rate if the representative wants to go beyond the allowable limit set by state and local law. Your letter, like our Model Letter, should cover the following points:
Authorization for access. Tell the representative that, to have access to the unit, he must first obtain authorization from the appropriate local authorities. Indicate that you’ll grant him access after he gives you documented authorization to enter the unit.
Rent. Tell the representative that he’ll be obligated to pay use and occupancy rent on the unit if he doesn’t remove all of the property belonging to the deceased resident within the required number of days. Also, inform the representative that, if the unit isn’t vacated at the end of the allowable period, you’ll store or dispose of the property as permitted by state and local law.
Property removal. You should work with the representative to determine how long it will take him to remove the deceased resident’s property from the unit. Your letter should make clear how long the deceased resident’s belongings may remain in the unit and what charges will be assessed for storing them.
Your letter should set a deadline for declaring the deceased resident’s belongings abandoned property. This is based on your Resident Guide or Tenant Selection Plan, which specifies the amount of time that a deceased resident’s representative has to remove the property before it’s declared “abandoned property.” Also, tell the representative whom to contact at the site, and provide the contact information, in case he has additional questions.
Step #4: Dispose of Abandoned Property
Your site rules, which become part of the lease, should include language about abandoned property, which is based on your state and local civil codes. Your site rules should state that if the deceased resident’s belongings aren’t removed from the unit within the legally required limit, you may declare the property abandoned. You would then have the option to:
- Sell it;
- Destroy “or otherwise dispose” of it if you determine that it has no value and that the cost of storing or selling it would be higher than the amount you would realize from the sale; or
- Sell items of value and destroy “or otherwise dispose” of the remainder.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Add Site Rule for Right to Remove Property|
|Contact Deceased Resident's Representative to Handle Estate|