16th May 2017

Selling the home of a relative suffering from Dementia

Too many of us have personal experience of dementia in our own families and when you are caring for a person with a dementia diagnosis the job can seem overwhelming at times.

There are a range of legal steps to be taken into consideration, but at some stage it is likely that the dementia patient’s home will have to be sold. This means you’ll be handling a conveyancing transaction for your relative possibly alongside all the upheaval of arranging alternative accommodation for them and dealing with the emotional fall-out of the situation you are in.

It’s not going to be an easy process, but having been both that person, and their advisor, I can share my tips.

The right to act: Assuming the dementia has progressed so that your relative does not have legal capacity, to sell their home you’ll need a Lasting Power of Attorney that has no restriction on taking this action, or to have been appointed your relative’s deputy by the Court of Protection, and to have obtained a Court Order for the sale of the home. Needless to say,Berwins’ Life team are the go-to experts on this.

Act when is appropriate: Above all, settle your relative so far as possible into their new accommodation before you start the process of selling.  A house move can be profoundly unsettling for any one.  Talk to your relative’s health care provider about what is happening and prepare for your relative’s anxiety or grief which can manifest in different ways, or disengagement in the process. Take your cues from them and be ready to answer questions and reassure.

Pick the right partners: Find an estate agent you like, not the cheapest.  Beware the internet only estate agents whose role is limited to finding a buyer.  Your relative is not going to be able to input much into the conveyancing process (‘Did you get planning permission for the garage Mr Smith?..’) and so you need an agent who will manage your buyer’s and their solicitor’s expectations about how much information is going to be available throughout.

Refresh, but don't renovate: Make sure the house is clean and tidy but don’t spend money on improvements.  Some furniture should be left in as ‘dressing’ but make sure you get rid of any ‘ick’ factor – walking frames, commodes, rows of sticky medicine bottles…

Ensure you have the requisite paperwork: When selling a house there are standard pre-contract information forms which you will have to complete on your relative’s behalf.  Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to any questions – it is not necessary to go to endless trouble to try and find out whether that 1968 extension had planning permission – your solicitor is there to find solutions to any missing items.

That said – they will need the title deeds!  These may be with your relative’s former solicitors, with their last mortgage lender, or in a strong box in the spare room wardrobe… If they are irretrievably lost speak with your solicitor about reconstituting the title at the Land Registry.  This should really be done before you market the property.

Nowadays solicitors are under a legal duty to check the identity of all clients; they will need to check your identity (see your passport and address ID) and also that of your relative.  If your 90-year old mum doesn’t have a passport/drivers licence/shot gun certificate you’ll need to speak with your solicitor about what other evidence satisfies the legal requirements.  Sometimes they may need to visit your relative so it makes sense to instruct a local solicitor.

If your relative’s health is very precarious, let your solicitor know.  Your power of attorney/deputyship ceases on death.  Sadly it sometimes happens that people die between exchange and completion and this is a legal situation that takes a bit (OK, a lot) of sorting out.

This is not a job you ever wanted, it carries no pay, and sometimes no thanks but you can console yourself with the knowledge that you’re doing right by your relative.  Don’t beat yourself up – you won’t get it right every time, but so long as you get the basics right you won’t fall in to any legal traps.

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