My dad died Thursday, April 15, from drinking himself to death (official cause was heart attack, but real cause was many large bottles of VSOP); his body wasn’t found until Monday, April 18. My mom’s divorce from him was official mid-March, but she hadn’t found out about it yet when he died - her lawyer still had the papers, and hadn’t told my mom yet. We went to Moose Jaw where he lived alone (he had driven all of his family away a long time ago - I hadn’t seen him in five years) in a large, decrepit house.
Here’s the physical, legal, and financial messes he left:
he left a three-storey house with four rental suites. The house is paid off, but in lousy condition. We’re not sure how much the house is worth yet - we have to have it appraised. Being an old house in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan means it is worth very little.
he lived on the main floor of the house, and hadn’t cleaned any of it for five years. If you’ve ever seen a house that a drunk lived in without cleaning, you know what kind of mess I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen this kind of mess, imagine the worst mess you can, then double it. It’s really beyond belief that anyone can live in a place like that - the smell alone was unbelievable. I’m not sure why there aren’t more bugs and mice - we saw no mice and few bugs. Maybe in a few months there will be more.
his body wasn’t found for four days. The pool of decomposing body fluid seeped through the carpet in the bedroom where he died and into the basement. My husband (The Hero) cleaned the bedroom and basement by cutting out the piece of carpet and spraying everything he could see with bleach. We left it at that. The floor of the bedroom was hardwood, and has a large dark stain on it. The furnace room has rivulets of red fluid running down it. The smell is much better, but still unbearable (we did what we had to do in the place with respirators and disposable coveralls on).
he was a Hoarder. The main floor, two garages and a shed are full of crap. Useless, pointless garbage. On the plus side, that means all of the receipts and paperwork should be there; on the minus side, that means that, for example, when he replaced a filthy toilet seat, it was still in the house.
he left about $38,000 worth of debt, and a house that is maybe worth $30,000, if we clean it up and sell it.
all four of his adult children are equal inheritors of debt and estate. We have already begun squabbling over decisions, and we haven’t even elected an administrator of the estate yet.
his income taxes for 2003 and 2004 haven’t been done yet.
all credit cards, property taxes and utilities are in severe arrears. The Estate may have to do something about this.
there is a questionable tenant in the basement suite, which is beside the furnace room with the body fluid in it - I don’t know how badly it is going to start smelling. I don’t know if the tenant will pay rent, or trash the place. My mom and sister decided to give him free run of the main floor as well as his basement suite (one of the reasons the squabbling started - none of the other three inheritors was consulted or informed of this decision until it was done already).
nobody lives in Moose Jaw. My mom (the ex-wife) and three of four sisters live in Calgary. The fourth lives near Saskatoon, and wants nothing to do with anything. Calgary is seven hours away from Moose Jaw. Saskatoon is 2 1/2 hours away.
Here’s where the opinions I’m looking for come in (and if you’ve read this far, thank you. This is therapeutic for me). I AM NOT LOOKING FOR LEGAL ADVICE. We have retained a lawyer, and will continue to discuss things with him. I would like to hear from other people who have been in similar situations, and what they did that worked, and what they would warn us against trying to do.
My mom still has things in the house that she would like to get out. We understand that she has no claim on anything not specifically mentioned in the divorce, but we are unanimous in saying she can take anything she wants from the house. If there is anything of real value there, I didn’t see it this weekend.
My oldest sister thinks that there are things in the house of value, and wants to have garage sales to get some value from the estate. Then she wants to clean up the house and sell it. Best case scenario - we make almost enough from the sale of the house to pay the debts. There is no inheritance here. That’s not even a question.
My other two sisters and I want to walk away from the whole mess - turn the house over to the city for back taxes, and let the creditors and City of Moose Jaw fight over who has to sell the place and recoup their losses. Did I mention that the house and everything in the house stinks, and is in old, crappy condition? We would probably have to have a specialized cleaning company come in and do a thorough clean before a real estate agent would even show the place. And once it is in condition to show (carpets ripped out, brown walls returned to their original white, body stain in bedroom dealt with somehow), it is anybody’s guess how long before it sells in a very slow market.
Typing this out has been good for me. It’s no wonder we’re all feeling overwhelmed - this is a huge mess, with nothing but question marks everywhere we turn.
You don’t indicate whether or not condolences are in order, so I will offer them just in case.
If ever a case needed to be handled by an attorney, this is it. IANAL, but an executor needs to be appointed toot-sweet, and the remaining family should make a pact to abide by the decisions of the executor without arguing.
Document everything you do and all the calls you make. It sounds like you have a huge mess, and it will be a lot to keep track of.
Does Canadian law require heirs to repay debts? I think here in the States if there’s not enough out of the estate to pay the debts the debtors are SOL.
Is there any way for the three of you to walk away from the whole mess and give it to the sister that wants it? More or less telling her she can buy you all out for $1, and if she makes $10,000 on her garage sale / home sale, more power to her.
This was going to be my first question. In just about every Western country that i know of, a deceased person’s debts can only be claimed from that person’s estate, and not from the the person’s heirs. Of course, as ivylass suggests, you’ll need to find out what Canadian law is on the matter, but i’d be very surprised if you were held responsible for his debt.
Sorry about your dad, and about all the trouble he left you.
From what the lawyer said, if there isn’t enough money in the Estate to cover the debts, the Estate can offer partial payment of debts or just declare bankruptcy. They don’t come to the inheritors in any way, unless the creditors believe that the Estate had more money than the Executors (Administrators in Canada, I guess) got out of it. Say, for example, you had a house worth $100,000, and you sold it for $5000 and told the creditors there was no money for them.
Well, obviously, I haven’t seen the place, but from the sounds of things, there’s a good chance it won’t be saleable even with a good cleaning. There are some circumstances that require a home to be condemned - if your father was a hoarder, and the place wasn’t cleaned for 5 years, and there’s that um, body residue issue, I would imagine this could very well be one of those circumstances.
I would get a city inspector out to find out before deciding anything. (There’s no sense in fighting amongst yourselves about selling the place if it can’t be sold.)
That reminds me, I remember reading a newspaper article about companies that specialize in cleaning up grizzly situations like yours, such as decomposing bodies, crime scenes, etc.
Also, I remember reading on one of the threads about hoarding here on the SDMB, there is a company that specializes in cleaning out hoarder’s houses. Now whether any of these types of companies are near you, I don’t know.
We have knocked the idea around that the place might be condemned. It’s another one of the many question marks. We’re planning to have a local real estate agent go in and give us an idea of what he thinks should be done with the place - if he says condemn it and pull it down, we will probably let it go back to the city for back taxes (if they’ll take it). I guess I have some research to do.
Thanks for the sympathy, by the way. I’m also sorry we’re having this big mess, and that he was a pretty lousy father, but you get what you get, and you do what you can with it.
That sounds pretty much like what i was expecting. So, although you might not actually get anything out of the estate, you shouldn’t lose anything either.
If you think that your father’s assets won’t be enough to cover his debts, and if his place is such a huge mess, why don’t you just leave it and let the creditors get what they can from it? This would save the hassle of going through everything and spending a whole lot of time sorting stuff out and cleaning things up.
Of course, if your sister really wants to do all this stuff and you don’t, i tend to agree with Cheesesteak: just wash your hands of the whole thing and let her do with it what she wants.
The only caution i would offer relates to the part about letting your mother take stuff out. Sure, the things she wants probably aren’t worth anything, but you probably have to be a bit careful about removing “assets” when the estate is in debt.
Before my dad passed away, he had to deal with a similar situation.
As has been already stated, if you are certain that the house and the items inside cannot raise the required funds, then best leave it ot the creditors. Let them deal with it, and you cna move on, since they cannot touch you.
In my dad’s case the house would have been worth considerably more than the debt after some minor investment in fixing it up. I convinced him to do this and he ended up netting over 25 grand after paying off the debt and including the cost of renovating.
Yuck. My uncle also went out like that. Drank himself to death in a trailer in North Florida. He worked a night job so no one was concerned aobut his car being there in the day. He was in that trailer with no AC in the summer for four or five days. When the SIL went looking all he had to see was the legs sticking out of the bathroom to know. The EMS types basically just cut the rug around him and loaded that into the body bag. My other uncle was brave enough to get the wallet out of the jeans his brother had been wearing to retrieve a photo of dead uncle and grandma to give to grandma. Needless to say, she was not allowed anywhere near the scene. He had to get it laminated to remove the putrid smell.
Your husband has a real constitution.
With that house in such condition, it probably is ready to be condemned. Especially since restoration costs probably exceed the value of the house.
We did get a specialized cleaner in to give us a quote while we were all in town for the funeral - we’ll see what the quote comes back as. That’s on the list of question marks - do we pay one red cent to get this place looked after, or do we walk away from the whole mess? I’ve sent an email to the City of Moose Jaw building inspector for information on what would make a house condemned there - we’ll see how that stacks up.
For the record, the cleaner seemed to think that a place as dirty and smelly as that would basically need everything in it thrown away. I tend to agree. Everything in the house stinks - I don’t know if you can wash that much stink off. He was optimistic about getting the smell out of the house itself, though.
Another vote that if three of you want to walk away and the fourth wants to give it a try, the three should sign quit claims or sell their shares for a dollar,
HOWEVER, implicit in that situation is that if the fourth sib makes a go of it and actually turns a profit, none of the first three can express even the tiniest animosity or make any claims on those profits. If you don’t risk the time/effort/money, you don’t get to share in the reward.
Good luck. It is a tough situation all around.
(I will say that after my Dad died, my mom had to fix up and sell some rental property that they had owned and the tenants had used my father’s absence during his illness to trash the place. (They were not hoarders, however.) The “kindly” neighbor offered her $2,000 to “take it off her hands” and pointed out it would take $10,000 to restore. She went ahead and invested the $10,000 (which she had, fortunately, from Dad’s insurance) and sold the house for nearly $30,000. My BIL and SIL also bought a decrepit house where (literally) inbred hoarders had lived and eventually turned it into a showplace. Unfortunately, such efforts, while they can pay off, do take both money and time.