4.8/5 based on 35 reviews.

Sudden Wealth Blog

The Owner of a House Died, And Now It’s Vacant. What Can You Do?

The Owner of a House Died

Stories about abandoned houses used to be more common. Famous movies that included abandoned houses include It’s a Wonderful Life, 101 Dalmatians, and Friday the 13th. So, the question is this: What happens when the owner of a house died, and now it’s vacant? Keep reading to find out.

What happens if you let the house remain abandoned

If the vacant house is in your neighborhood, you definitely want to do something about it. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that homeless people or drug addicts will move in. The property can become run down. And your property value will suffer as a result. So, it’s in your financial interest to be proactive.

But here’s the catch. Just because you are a neighbor does not entitle you to go into the property. Going onto someone else’s property without permission is criminal trespassing. And you certainly cannot break into the property because that’s another crime, namely breaking and entering.

Unless someone obtains the legal authority to enter into the property and sell it, it will continue to deteriorate. The landscaping will die from lack of water and care. Weeds take over. And vandals could break into the place looking for copper pipes and other metal to steal.

Here’s What You Do First When the Owner of a House Died, And Now It’s Vacant

Your first step if the owner of a house died, and now it’s vacant, is this: Try to contact the deceased owner’s next of kin. You can find the name of the deceased owner of the property by contacting the local county assessor’s office. Then see if an obituary for the owner was ever published. The obituary may list other family members. Try to contact those family members and see if they plan to do anything with the house.

Do you need help dealing with a vacant house, click the link below to schedule a Strategy Session.

If you still can’t locate any family members, the next step is probably to gain access to the property and see if you can find letters from family, a Last Will and Testament, or other documents that can help determine who is supposed to be in charge of selling the property.

But you can’t just bust down the door and enter unless you have legal authority. In Arizona, to get the legal authority to enter the house, you can apply to the court to become a Special Administrator. The applicable statutes are A.R.S. §§ 14-3614 through 14-3618. Your appointment as Special Administrator will only last for a limited period (usually a few months). It also does not entitle you to transfer or sell anything. It merely entitles you to enter the property, secure it, and look for documents that could help determine who you should contact.

What If You Can’t Find a Will or Any Relatives?

If you can’t find a Will or any record of relatives in the vacant house, then you definitely need to call an experienced attorney. A good idea would be to hire an heir search company to try to find relatives of the deceased homeowner. A house with no heirs (parents, siblings or descendants) ultimately ends up going to the state. That process is called “escheat.” The property will be sold to pay for unpaid property taxes, and the state will keep the remainder. However, that process can take years unless a private citizen gets involved.

In a situation like this, the Maricopa County Superior Court will probably prefer to appoint the Public Fiduciary to serve as personal representative. That will entitle them to sell the property. There are a multitude of statutes and probate rules that are involved. If you want to help get the ball rolling, we would strongly encourage you to hire an attorney to help with this.

Click the link below to schedule a Strategy Session. We’re here to help.

Will You Get Paid for Your Time and Out-Of-Pocket Expenses?

If you are the one to start the legal proceedings, it is possible that you will get reimbursed (assuming you are successful in getting someone appointed as special administrator and/or personal representative). Definitely talk to an attorney before starting. You can call us at 602-443-4888.

Or schedule a Strategy Session using the link below. 


Founding attorney Paul Deloughery has been an attorney since 1998, became a Certified Family Wealth Advisor. He is also the founder of Sudden Wealth Protection Law.