Father Has Liens on His Property; Will Wife be Liable for Those in Event of His Death?

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“My father remarried a few years ago. He owned his home and estate outright before he remarried. However, there are numerous liens on his property. If he wills the property to his wife, will she have to pay the liens before she can take possession of the property? Or would she have to pay the liens only if she sells the property? Also, how long can she go without paying the property taxes? I doubt she can afford those. We are in a community property state, if that matters. Thank you in advance.”

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

As a general matter, when someone dies, the property that they own becomes their “probate estate,” and is passed to their heirs according to the terms of their will (or applicable law, if there is no will).

So right now your father owns a home that has liens on it.  If he wanted to sell or refinance the property, he would need to have the liens removed (usually by paying them off), but he can continue living in the house with the liens on it.

When you inherit something, you take it “subject to” any liens that are on it.  So his wife would get essentially the same thing he has now: the ownership and ability to live there, but subject to the liens if she wanted to sell or refinance.

And like your father now, she would need to pay the applicable property taxes, or risk having the taxing authority foreclose to collect them.  How long they will hold off before doing that depends on where the property is, and also may depend on how much is owed.

You are not required to accept something just because it is willed to you.  When the time comes, his wife should probably find out how much the property is worth, how much the liens total, and what the property taxes will be.  With that information, she can decide whether she would be better off accepting the inheritance or letting it go.



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Author: House Attorney

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