If parents give you their homes before they die, says Tim Willis, they can save you a lot of hassle after, and can remain in it until they die or go into care
Where there’s a will, the saying goes, there’s a dispute. And one of the chief grounds for such unpleasantness is the distribution of chattels. Testators too often rely on their offspring to display fairness and magnanimity when compelled to divide these, yet experience frequently teaches that the reverse is true.
It makes sense, therefore – unless you or your parents are too squeamish – to settle in advance who will keep the jewellery and the favourite rocking chair, the best linen and the Steiff teddy bear.
The whole agreement can then be enshrined in law, or at least in a counter-signed statement of intent, allowing the heirs to concentrate on two extremely unsettling prospects.
Nightmare scenario one: your aged mother or father has to go into care. The council will only pay costs if the patients have assets of less than £23,250 – though this limit may rise soon – and so their homes must either be sold or hocked.
Nightmare scenario two: your mother or father dies still in possession of their faculties and residence, but it takes months or years for probate to be declared. During this time, you cannot sell or even rent their house, let alone its contents, yet you must not only pay some or all of the council tax – depending on your local authority – but also shell out for maintenance. The lawn, after all, will not mow itself.
Dream solution one: your parents give you their house and the bulk of their assets, selflessly moving into a bed-and-breakfast to await their removal to a nursing home or the cemetery.
Dream solution two: they give you the house ‘with reservations’, meaning that they pay no rent and you cannot chuck them out against their will. This doesn’t require putting anything in trust. All you need is a simple legal document that, once it is signed and witnessed, slays the bogeymen above.
If your parents are ill, and once their banks accounts are sufficiently depleted, they can simply move out of their house and into a home courtesy of the local authority. (Nervous councils have never tested such documents in court, in case they open the floodgates.)
And if your parents are deceased, you can have the estate agents’ boards up before the earth has even settled on their graves.
It may sound heartless, but the last thing most people want is to bequeath their heirs a problem or to rob them of an inheritance for the sake of a few months stuck in the day-lounge of life. Oh, and I bags the rocking chair.