Can You Legally Force Someone to Take a House When You Die?

by Marcy Brinkley
You may leave your property to a specific individual in your will but you cannot force him to accept it.

You may leave your property to a specific individual in your will but you cannot force him to accept it.

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If you want to leave your house to a specific individual, you must put your wishes in writing by executing a will. However, you cannot force that person to accept the property if he does not want it. If he refuses the gift, another beneficiary or heir may inherit it or the executor of the estate may decide to sell the property and divide the proceeds among those entitled to inherit a percentage of the estate.

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Specific Bequests

If you want a particular person to inherit your house, include a specific bequest in your will to that effect. A specific bequest might state that you leave the house to your son, John Smith, while a general bequest would leave your entire estate or a percentage of it to John. In most states, the executor distributes general bequests at the end of the probate process, but may distribute special bequests earlier in the process as long as the estate has enough assets to pay its debts and taxes. One potential pitfall of special bequests is that the executor does not have the power to compensate John if the house was sold during your lifetime or during probate to pay debts. If you want a beneficiary to receive money if the house cannot be conveyed to him, you need to include a provision in your will to that effect.

Unwelcomed Gifts

While some beneficiaries might appreciate the gift of a house, others may see it as a liability. Your chosen beneficiary might be concerned, for example, about paying taxes and other debts on the house or may not be able to live in it or maintain it. The beneficiary has the right to refuse any gift by filing a notice at the court handling the estate. Called a renunciation or disclaimer, this document may apply to a part of the person's inheritance or to all of it, depending on the beneficiary's wishes. However, the beneficiary must file the renunciation or disclaimer prior to accepting the house. Afterwards, it is too late to renounce the inheritance.

Available Options

While you cannot force a person to accept your house as a gift after you die, you might be able to address his objections if you discuss the situation with him before you make your will. For example, you might overcome financial concerns by taking out an insurance policy to pay off the balance of the mortgage at the time of your death and setting aside estate assets to pay the taxes and maintenance on the property. If you want to leave your house to your son, John Smith, from your first marriage, but intend to allow your second wife to live there during her lifetime, you might set aside money from the estate for maintenance and upkeep to avoid future disputes between John and his stepmother.

Conditions

If you include conditions in your will, such as leaving your son your entire estate only if he agrees to keep the house, the judge will evaluate this condition to determine if it is against public policy. If he determines that it is against public policy, the condition will not be enforceable. Since both state and federal laws allow beneficiaries to renounce or disclaim part or all of a gift, it is likely that the judge would allow your son to refuse the house while accepting the rest of the estate assets left to him.