What happens if owner of vacation rental home passes away?
January 14, 2011 5:30 AM   Subscribe

I rented a lake house vacation home for my family this summer, and found out a few weeks ago that the owner of the house has died. What should I expect to happen? Details below.

Last year I decided to rent a vacation house at Lake Anna in Maryland; I come from a large family, so the house I settled on was a fairly large, expensive one.

The cost of the house was split between myself and my siblings. The deposit (covering just under half the cost of the house) was sent in, along with the contract, in September of last year. The remaining balance was due at the beginning of January, and that was sent in at the end of November.

In mid-December, I received a call from a lady who explained that the owner of the rental property had passed away from Leukemia. The lady I was speaking to identified herself as the executor of the will, but it sounded as if she was still trying to figure out what that meant. She had just met with a lawyer a few days before, and was working out what happens next.

The conversation was a bit confusing. At first she stated that this obviously meant that the rental couldn't go forward, but then later suggested that there was a possibility that rentals it could, and she'd keep that week reserved for me (I'm sure the person who passed away was a friend or relative, and I imagine she was still dealing with that, so I didn't press too hard). I was the first rental called because she found my letter with the second half of the payment in it. She asked if I wanted it returned to me, and I said she could just rip it up. She did.

I got her e-mail address and phone number (her work #), and said I would check back with her in a couple weeks once she had time to sorts things out a bit more. I e-mailed her a week ago and received no response. I have since tried calling her several times and it just rings a couple of times and goes to voice mail.

So - what to do next?

* Timing is a important because if there is no possibility of keeping the rental week, I need to find another place (most places are already booked for the summer).

* There is a question of when the deposit will be returned(half the cost of the rental, a significant amount of money).

* General legal rights for renters?

The contract I signed covers all cases where the renter (me) needs to cancel, but says nothing at all about what happens if the owner does.

Any advice on how to proceed would be welcome.
posted by djaevle to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any travel insurance (e.g. a general policy or because you paid by credit card) that might cover this? That might be able to refund you the money if the executor cannot guarantee to refund it in time for you to book a replacement place.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:33 AM on January 14, 2011

Call me a cynical jerk, but I'd ask to see the death certificate. You'd need it anyway if you pursued any of the travel insurance options you might have.
posted by litnerd at 5:40 AM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: No travel insurance. The rental is just under two hours away. The only arrangements made were with the owner of the rental place.
posted by djaevle at 5:45 AM on January 14, 2011

There is of course the possibility she is off work at the moment for some reason. Is her work number an extension? Press zero and ask to speak to her supervisor and explain you have not had a response from her (obvs don't go into details) and they may be able to give you a timeline when she will respond. If it is a direct line to her desk can you google the number to see what company it belongs to and proceed from there? I would be inclined personally to send a registered letter to her workplace outlining the two options, stating your preference, and a date you need either confirmation of the rental or a full refund so that there is a paper trail of the debt against the estate. When you do talk to her find out what lawyer she is dealing with and see if you can get the lawyer on the phone to ask for their recommendations.
posted by saucysault at 6:03 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Was there a contract? I'm not an attorney, but I assume that if there's any kinds of contracts outstanding, they need to be sorted out in the probate process. Before you go asking about death certificates, do you know the landlord's name? Can you google it to find a death notice?
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 6:37 AM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: There was a contract, but it's not extensive and doesn't what happens if the owner wants out/passes away.

I did just google the owner, and it wasn't hard to find an obituary for her.
posted by djaevle at 6:43 AM on January 14, 2011

You're going to want to talk to a local attorney about this to see how your state treats contracts when one of the parties has died. It could be that the contract is valid against the estate. A lot of debt contracts work this way, and creditors generally get a first line on estate assets. It could also be that the death of one of the parties terminates the contract.

In short, there isn't any way for anyone on MetaFilter to answer this question for you. You need local counsel. This will cost you a few hundred bucks, but you're presumably already in this for a few thousand dollars, and you're probably going to need to spend that little extra to make sure that you either 1) get to go on this vacation, or 2) get your money back.
posted by valkyryn at 6:47 AM on January 14, 2011

"There is of course the possibility she is off work at the moment for some reason. Is her work number an extension? Press zero and ask to speak to her supervisor and explain you have not had a response from her (obvs don't go into details) and they may be able to give you a timeline when she will respond."

If someone did this to me with respect to a personal matter, for any reason, I would probably try to screw with them with a hot poker just on general principle. I would expect a lot of people are the same. This is probably a family member acting as the executor while she is grieving. Keep it professional. People die, and this is why they have estates and their estates have lawyers. Don't push an inexperienced executor when there are more appropriate ways to handle things.

You presumably have the name of the decedent, since you have a contract with him. Talk to a lawyer, who will probably tell you to send his estate a registered letter or something like that. You should determine sooner rather than later whether you still want the rental - the fact that you told her to tear up the second payment is kind of weird and may hurt you if you still want to be in there. It takes a long time to close estates that own real estate, especially when there are arguably enforceable rental contracts in place. It's likely you'll still be able to use this rental in the summer as long as you make the payments in accordance with the contract you had.

posted by iknowizbirfmark at 6:56 AM on January 14, 2011

I think under the circumstances you should cancel and send a letter to the estate for a refund. Under the best of circumstances, it would be risky to assume that the house rental wouldn't fall through. Start looking for a replacement vacation rental ASAP.
posted by JJ86 at 6:58 AM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far.

I had her tear up the check because she wanted to send it back and I didn't see the point of wasting a stamp; in retrospect, I probably should have just asked her to hold onto it until everything was sorted out.

I was able to get her on the phone a few minutes ago; she is speaking to the probate lawyer today and has paperwork to sort through. She asked that I follow up with her in a week. She suggested, again, that the rentals may stand but there is a concern over the mortgage being met in the meantime.

She sounds as if she is being earnest in her attempts to deal with this mess and is just having difficult wading through what needs to be done.
posted by djaevle at 7:09 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask her if you could talk to the probate attorney directly. May make her life easier and you could get some clearer answers. Maybe.
posted by AugustWest at 7:59 AM on January 14, 2011

Isn't Lake Anna in Virginia?

I'm asking because it's my understanding that things go through probate on different schedules depending upon which state the deceased lived in.

I would think that this may or may not affect the availability of the property for your rental.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:09 AM on January 14, 2011

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