Resident Death… A Touchy Subject

It’s a sad fact of HOA management that sometimes you will have to deal with the death of a resident. This is obviously a sensitive, highly emotional situation that needs to be handled with sensitivity and finesse, even as certain business needs to be conducted and concluded in a timely manner. How should property managers handle resident death without stirring up controversy and hurt feelings?

Handle with Care

The important thing for board members and other HOA caretakers to remember is that the people they need to contact after a resident’s death are going through a rough emotional experience. Grieving is a very personal and very sensitive, process, and being put under pressure only makes it worse. More than that, pushing a grieving family member to hurry up and take care of legal minutia with you isn’t likely to get you the reaction you want.

If a board member, or other person in authority, is being too pushy or callous, try to remind them to be sensitive to survivors’ needs. If that doesn’t work, try to find someone else to work as an intermediary between the two parties to reduce tension. The business of inheritance and property transfers will likely get taken care of without needless pressure, and will be concluded much more easily without tension between the parties caused by overzealous property managers pressuring the aggrieved.

Taking Further Action

In cases where the family and heirs of the deceased fail to work with the HOA, actions that cause controversy may be unavoidable. Just because a resident has passed doesn’t mean that fees and costs disappear, and it is still the association’s responsibility to make sure they are paid.

In homes with more than one resident, responsibility for these costs is easy to ascertain. One member of the household passing away does not mean that the other people living there no longer have to meet that household’s responsibilities to the HOA.

In cases where a property’s only owner/resident has passed, things become more complicated. The HOA can (and should) take action against the deceased’s estate, and can place a lien on the property if the estate’s executors don’t pay them. However, the association may not be able to take action against the heirs themselves. A recent New Jersey court ruling found that only the deceased’s estate was responsible for HOA costs and fines, and that the beneficiaries themselves (as long as they were not signees to the agreement with the HOA) had no responsibility to the association.

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