Inheriting a house with a mortgage requires making some decisions about what to do with the property. One option is to sell the home and pay off the loan with the sale proceeds. If you keep the home, you can assume the existing mortgage or refinance the loan. If you keep the home, you can live in it or rent it out. Your choices may be limited by the laws where you live. If the ownership of the house is split between one or more other heirs, you’ll have to consider their wishes. A financial advisor can help develop a plan to reach your personal financial goals.
Home Inheritance Basics
After someone passes away, a will can be used to bequeath property such as a private residence to a loved one. In the absence of a will, state laws may dictate where the property goes.
Often property or other assets inherited in this way goes through probate. When that happens, any debts owed by the estate must be paid off before assets are distributed to heirs. This means the mortgage has to be dealt with in some manner before the estate can be settled. State inheritance laws vary, so local requirements may limit your options.
Mortgage Inheritance Options
When you inherit a home with a mortgage, you’ll have two basic choices: sell it or keep it. Here are the pros and cons of each.
- If you sell the home, you can use the proceeds to pay off the loan. If there is any money left after satisfying the lender, you can keep the cash as part of your inheritance.
Selling and paying off the loan relieves of you any responsibility to make future mortgage payments and keep up the property. And selling may be the only option if you share ownership of it with another beneficiary who wants cash. Taxes represent a potential complication. You may owe capital gains taxes on the money you receive after paying off the mortgage.
- If you keep the home, you can assume the mortgage and start making payments. A federal law called the Garn-St. Germain Act generally requires lenders to let someone who has inherited a house assume an existing mortgage without getting credit approval or paying closing costs on a new loan. This can let you move into a place more desirable than you could buy on your own, in addition to possibly having pleasant memories associated with it.
Keeping the home gives you more options. You can live in the home if its location and other features meet your needs. Alternatively, you can rent it to tenants and, if the rent is more than the mortgage, collect passive income plus potential gains from price appreciation.
A major downside of keeping the property is that you have to make the mortgage payments, in addition to covering the taxes, insurance and other expenses. If you want to and can get approved for a new loan, however, you may be able to refinance the loan. Refinancing can let you take advantage of lower interest rates and possibly reduce the payments or, if you prefer, take cash out of the equity.
A lot of things can go right if you inherit a house with a mortgage. Some potential pitfalls to be aware of include these:
- Negative Equity: If the house is underwater, meaning the outstanding balance of the mortgage is more than the property’s value, you won’t be able to sell it for enough to pay off the loan. Unless you can get the lender to agree to a short sale, you’ll still be responsible for the remaining balance.
- Tax liability: Selling an inherited property and realizing a gain on it after settling the mortgage could create a tax obligation. The gain could even push you into a higher tax bracket so you’ll owe more on the other income you generate from work or investments.
- Ownership costs: Repairs, maintenance, property taxes and homeowner association fees are some of the costs that can go with owning a home you inherit. Account for these costs before you decide what to do with the property.
- Selling costs: Even if you sell the property, you’ll still have to pay a number of costs. These often include real estate agent commissions, closing costs and possibly repairs, among others. These costs will reduce the amount left after the transaction and can make the sale less appealing and worthwhile.
Picking the Right Approach
Deciding what to do when you’ve inherited a house with a mortgage involves balancing several considerations, including:
- Your finances: Ask yourself whether you have the resources to keep making mortgage payments and maintaining the property.
- Living situation: If you need a place to live and the inherited property suits your needs, it might make sense to assume the mortgage and move in.
- Market factors: The real estate market in your area may suggest that it’s better to sell or rent than to keep the property and live in it.
- Nostalgia: A family home could have pleasant memories or, for a variety of reasons, be someplace you’d prefer not to live.
- Legal issues: If multiple heirs are involved, they might disagree about what to do with the property.
The Bottom Line
Inheriting a house with a mortgage presents options that need careful consideration. Selling the home and paying off the loan can relieve you of mortgage responsibilities. Alternatively, you can keep the home, assume the mortgage and either live in it or rent it out for passive income. State laws and the wishes of other heirs may limit your choices. Your finances, living situation, market conditions, emotions and legal issues will be part of the final decision.
Tips for Investing
- Consider talking to a financial advisor before making any decisions about what to do with a home you have inherited. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t need to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have free introductory calls with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- If you decide to sell an inherited home and pocket the cash, you may wonder what would happen if you invested the funds. SmartAsset’s Investment Return & Growth Calculator can give you an answer. Input the amount you’ll invest, how much and how often you’ll make additional contributions to your initial capital, the anticipated rate of return and your investment time horizon in years. The calculator will tell you what your portfolio will likely be worth at the end of that period.
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Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.