Under the Influence – When a Guest Becomes an Unwanted Tenant

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By Shawndi Purselley, CFP®, CDFA®, Owner and Co-Founder, Wealth Advisor

I have written several times about my family dynamics and some of the things I encountered when my grandparents passed away 5 years ago.  I felt this blog entry was of significant importance to write about.

My grandparents continually allowed children and grandchildren to live with them if needed.  I lived with them for the vast majority of my adolescent life.  Most all of the time, a child or grandchild would stay a while here and there and then move on.  However, one particular adult grandchild decided he didn’t want to leave their home.  Now to be fair, my grandparents allowed him to stay and did not try to send him on his way.  He did not pay rent nor contribute to the household in any way.  If fact, it was quite the opposite as he did not have a job nor any sort of income.  My grandparents raised him from the time he was about 12.  He refused to finish high school and frequently participated in illegal activities.     At age 24, he was still living in my grandparents’ home when they both passed away.  This is where my story really begins.

I was the executor of both of their estates and one of two beneficiaries listed.  Immediately after they passed away, my cousin locked down the home and did not allow me to have access to the belongs in which I inherited from my grandparents.  I was not able to reach any of their financial documents or data from inside the home, nor was I able to obtain their mail.  These obstacles brought their own burdens of trying to probate their estate and to finish all of their final business.  Luckily, I did have the original copy of their wills in my possession.

When I approached law enforcement and the court about removing him from the home (or at least forcing him to allow me access to my grandparents’ property to secure valuables), I was told that I did not have the right to enter nor take possession of the property until the wills had been probated.  My cousin had been deemed a tenant of the home. Since my grandparents were now deceased, it was not possible to begin eviction procedures until the court had awarded me “executor” status.  The process took about three months.  In the meantime, my cousin began taking and selling things that had belonged to my grandparents and by inheritance, were to be given to me and my aunt.   He also participated in illegal behavior while in the home.    I did have the electricity and water shut off to the property immediately at my grandparents’ death.  However, he continued to reside in the home even without utilities.

Once I was confirmed executor of the estate, I then had to follow the eviction laws of the state of Texas as if he was a legal tenant of the property.   I was able to finally gain possession of my childhood home only to find it in horrible shape.  It had been ransacked and destroyed while he lived in the house with no utilities for months.

If you have a family member or friend that is living in your home (or maybe the home of your parents or grandparents) either by approval or not, you need to understand how this can affect your estate plan and the wishes you have already expressed in writing your will or trust.  Having a “tenant by default” can cause a lot of problems if you should pass away.

My grandparents did not leave my cousin anything in their will for a reason.  However, he was able to take, at his leisure, everything from inside and outside the home he wanted. There wasn’t anything I could do about it except sue him in small claims court.  I was told taking him to court would be my word against his as to whether my grandparents gave him a particular item before they died or not.

Additionally, if you have a friend or relative that is wearing out their welcome, it may not be as simple as asking them to leave or calling law enforcement to try to have them removed from your property.  Law enforcement is hesitant to get involved and most of the time will rely only on a court order to remove someone residing in a home.

If you feel like this is an issue that you need to address, I highly encourage you to speak to an attorney about your options and ways to legally protect you and your heirs from having to deal with the terrible situation I had to deal with.

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