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Is a Vacant Home Part of an Estate Falling Apart? Why Inspecting and Maintaining the House matters.

Updated: Mar 19

One of the most shocking assignments I have had in the estate planning industry was when my boss asked me to inspect the two homes of a man who was quite elderly and hadn’t lived in the houses for years due to his advanced Alzheimer’s. He would talk to his successor trustee about things like “when he comes home” and instructed him not to sell the houses. He was still alive, so it was up to him whether the homes would be sold or not, according to his attorney. They were required to follow his guidance while he was still around to make those kinds of decisions, capacity aside.

My job was to go to the homes once a week and check on them to make sure no animals got in, locks were secure, windows were not broken, floors and ceilings hadn’t fallen in, pipes hadn’t burst…you get the idea. The creepy part was that the homes hadn’t been lived in and sat vacant for at least ten years by that time. I don’t know the last time you walked into a vacant home that nobody has lived in for ten years, but it is like an old photo that gets stiff, and everything sort of turns this shade of brown.

This homeowner was also a hoarder to some degree, there was stuff everywhere. Nobody was allowed to enter the house and clean it out because “he was coming back.” Both houses were in the same condition, dangerous. The floors creaked, the stairs were sketchy, I smelled gas coming from an old stove that was still hooked up for some reason, and it felt like at any moment a homeless person who got in was going to jump out of a doorway and scare the heck out of me.

The neighbors complained, but the city didn’t issue any type of citations unless it was unkempt. We made sure the lawn was mowed and the landscaping was maintained. I did my regular visits and the city stayed out of it.

Looking back, this home should have been maintained from day one. Someone should have been in there regularly so that the home didn’t get into this condition in the first place. As it is now, both homes are complete teardowns. There is no way to salvage any part of these homes and they lost a lot of unnecessary value as a result. Both homes are in affluent areas and would have been worth a boat load had they been maintained. Instead, these two pieces of property will need to be demolished, no small cost, and sold as land, valuable but far less valuable than they would have been.

It was clear to everybody that this man was never coming back to either of these homes based on his age and health. More could have been done to preserve his estate for his heirs.

This experience is where Integrestate was born, out of ten years of neglect for two vacant homes. We would have inspected them regularly, but also made sure they were kept in mint condition until some decisions could be made to sell it or lease them out, or give them to the heirs, or whatever the owner planned for with his attorney while he had the capacity to make such decisions.

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