Q: My husband’s mother suffered a stroke and was found unresponsive in her apartment in September. She later died at the hospital. My husband has contacted his deceased mother’s apartment manager to find out how we go about getting her personal belongings. We were informed that my husband would need to be deemed executor of the estate. We went to the Self-Help Center at the courthouse and were told that if his mother’s estate was less than $75,000, then we could just use the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property of the deceased after 30 days to acquire her belongings.
I communicated this to the apartment manager, who stated that it’s still the responsibility of the family (next-of-kin were her exact words) to pay the rent. Is this true? Is my husband responsible for his mother’s rent?
A: In Minnesota, a lease may be terminated if all the tenants on the lease die. It sounds like your mother-in-law was the only tenant on the lease, so you are legally required to give a two-month written notice to terminate her lease, unless her lease was month-to-month. This means that if your mother-in-law had a one-year lease or some other length of time longer than one month, you still need to give a two-month written notice to terminate her lease due to her death. If your mother-in-law was on a month-to-month lease, then you need to give only a one-month written notice to terminate her lease.
The deceased’s children or other family members are not responsible for any rent that is owed on this apartment. The apartment manager or landlord has a claim against your mother-in-law’s estate only. If there are any assets in her estate, the apartment manager may file a claim with the estate for outstanding rent. If she died without assets, then the apartment manager will not be able to collect any rent money from the estate, since there isn’t any money. However, if the estate still owes rent, which the manager is claiming it does, then the apartment manager may keep your mother-in-law’s security deposit to cover any rent or other unpaid debts still owed from her tenancy, such as utility bills. The manager also can withhold the security deposit for any damages to her rental unit, excluding ordinary wear and tear.
If your mother-in-law has a refund of part of her security deposit, after deducting rent owed and any damages, then the manager needs to send the partial refund to the estate’s executor, or your husband or another relative if there is no executor. The manager should keep your mother-in-law’s belongings in the unit until the end of her lease, or her belongings are removed by relatives. Anyone with a legal right to access the property should be allowed in, such as the executor of the estate, heirs of the estate or relatives.
Typically you can complete the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property if the deceased’s estate is $75,000 or less (minus the amount of liens and encumbrances on the property), the property is listed only in the deceased’s name and there is no joint tenant or beneficiary, there is no real property (land and buildings) in the estate, and you meet several other requirements that are laid out in the instructions. It sounds like you already have the form and instructions, but if not, here is a link to where you can download them: www.mncourts.gov/GetForms.aspx?c=31&p=88.
After you complete the affidavit, your husband should attach a certified copy of his mother’s death certificate to the affidavit, and give it to the apartment manager. If you encounter any difficulty or have questions regarding the process, you should contact an attorney or HomeLine, a tenants’ rights organization that provides free or low-cost legal services, at 612-728-5767.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.