Do You Need to Insure a Vacant House in Probate?

Absolutely!  It's really that simple, being protected against the unexpected is vitally important.  Under New Jersey Probate Law, the executor/administrator of a will can be held financially responsiblefor incidents that occur on a vacant property.  Just imagine the costof being sued because a child tripped on while playing in the unkeptyard, of the vacant home, and broke a wrist.  It can happen andinsurance is the only way to protect yourself while the house is stillunder your control as executor.

Vacant Home insurance isdifferent then the normal Homeowners Insurance you might have for yourcurrent house.  It is a unique protection placed on vacantbuildings/homes that are expected to be unoccupied for more then 90days.  The first thing that needs to be done is the cancellation of theexisting home insurance and then the vacant home policy can be put intoplace.  This vacant policy will be more expensive for a variety ofreasons, let me give you an example of why…

John and hisfamily recently moved out of there 2 bedroom, 1 bath house to a largerhome in order to better suit his growing family.  Unfortunately he hadyet to sell the old house and it has been sitting vacant for the past 2months.  As time went on John was unable to check on the house as oftenas he would have liked.  One day, about 3 weeks since he last to a lookat the old place, he was driving in the neighborhood and decided tocheck up on the unsold house.  As he walked into the front door he sawa large wet spot on the floor, noticed a terrible mildew smell and thewallpaper was pealing right off the walls because of all the moisture. What had happened?

The washer hose sprung a leak and had beendripping water for 3 weeks.  If John had still lived in the house, atworst, he would have come home from work 8 hours later to find a smallwet spot by the leaking hose and would have avoided massive damage. The claim would have been small, about $10,000 of water damage, butsince the house was vacant and there was nobody to discover the leakfor 3 weeks the water caused over $100,000 worth of damage. WOW!

Ifthe normal homeowners policy was somehow still in affect, the insurerwould probably only cover the first $10,000 of any claim in thissituation, that is why you must get a VACANT homeowners policy in placeas quick as possible.  You want to be protected.

Even though avacant homeowners policy is more expensive, that cost can be mitigatedby raising the deductible amount that you are willing to pay.  Adeductible of $5000 would save you a ton of money compared to one of$500.  

Liability Insurance Coverage is also extremelyimportant. Being away from the house can create a situation where youmay be found negligent or liable for damages in a court of law andsituations you did not foresee. The most common example of this, issomeone comes onto your property to deliver something, or for someother legal reason, and they are injured because you have not cut thegrass, shoveled the snow, or another reason related to the home beingunoccupied. A child wandering on your property and being hurt isanother common example. Liability coverage is very important andwithout it, as the executor of the estate, you are risking yourfamilies savings.

Yet another coverage option to look into iscontents coverage.  If there is anything valuable left behind in thehouse, that won't necessarily be covered by the vacant homeownersinsurance.  This depends on the policy so you must ask.

Also askif the policy covers for vandalism, many vacant homeower's policies donot. Vandalism is the most common claim for a home that is not beingoccupied by the primary family members.

Important Notes, If ahouse becomes vacant for a period of 90 days or greater the originalhomeowners policy may be dropped by the insurer at any time.  They get very nervous when a house is vacant.   

Ifyou have no plans on living in the house, you should attempt to sell itas quickly as possible to avoid problems.  If the house is in badcondition or you have attempted to sell it and failed you still haveoptions.  Contact Scott at and he canpossibly help.  There is no risk or obligation.

A typical Vacant Homeowners policy over at looks like this…

Coverage Offered:
H03 policy wording (all risk coverage on the dwelling / replacement cost coverage at the time of claim)
Named Perils coverage on the contents if any items are left behind in the home.

Liability Insurance included at $100,000 with legal defense costs:
Additional liability coverage of up to $1,000,000 available on the vacant dwelling.
Legal defense costs included in the liability coverage

Deductible: Minimum deductible amount of USD 1,000 per occurrence.

Dwelling limits: Coverage limit of up to $1,250,000 per dwelling if requested.

Other structures coverage: Coverage equal to 10% of the dwelling limit.

ContentsLimits: 10% of the dwelling limit up to $25,000. More contents coverageavailable upon request if items are remaining in the unoccupied home.

Coverage limit of $1,000,000 per event.
Aggregate annual limit of $2,000,000 per master policy.
(Not available in all locations)

Coverage limit of $1,000,000 per event.
Aggregate annual limit of $5,000,000 per master policy.
(Not available in all locations)

Windstorm or Hail:
Subject to a deductible equal to 2% of the dwelling coverage limit.
Dwellings located in high risk counties or cities are subject to a deductible equal to 5% of the dwelling coverage limit.

Territorial Limits: Home can be insured in the U.S., Canada, U.K. EU, Australia and in 50 other countries if approved insurers.

Alarm system: May be required by some insurance companies


*As always articles on this site are informational only, any legalmatters must be brought to an attorney who specializes in the field*


New Jersey Probate: Can’t Find the Will

First thing is don’t panic!  In New Jersey there are several places outside of the home where you can find a will.  Many times
after a person has passed, the heirs have trouble finding the will. 
What complicates matters is that there might not even be one so how do
you know where to start looking or what will happen.  Turning the house
upside down is usually the first option for finding the will and that
is like finding a needle in a hay stack, meaning impossible.  Here are
some great tips for possibly uncovering that will…

  • If
    you happen to have a copy of the will (which would not be valid because
    you need the original), check to see if there are any attorneys named
    on the document.  The reason is that many people don’t have a safe
    place to store a will so they keep it with the attorney that helped
    them create it. 
  • Have no copy of the will?  Try checking
    for a safety deposit box at their bank.  Find bank statements to get
    information on which banks they have accounts in and you may get
    lucky.  This is where my parents keep their wills so in all likely hood
    this is the spot as many people keep the existence of a safety deposit
    box a secret.
  • Another place to check that many people don’t
    realize is the decedent’s county’s clerks office.  If the person lived
    in different places you may have to check with each clerks office.

are the “Official Places” that one might keep their Will, if those
places fail to turn anything up its time to start getting creative.

  • If
    the decedent last lived in a nursing home or assisted living home, then
    you need to contact them and ask about how they handle personal
    property left behind.  Many people like to keep their wills close so
    they may have brought it with them to the home. 
  • Many
    times a person might keep their will in a safe in the house or in their
    office.  Try searching through all office papers and search for folders
    or files that might not be marked or are hidden behind a drawer in a
    next.  I’ve even heard of secret compartments within a desk the held
    the will.  Check everywhere!
  • Lastly ask all children and relatives of the decedents.  You never know where it might turn up.

if you truly can not find the will, New Jersey Probate law will dictate the distribution of the assets.  When a person dies without a will they are said to have died Intestate (without a will).  Below you will find an outline of how property is distributed according to New Jersey Probate.  (taken from New Jersey State website…

If You Die Leaving:
Wife or Husband and Child or Children (also of Survivor) Or their Descendants

  • Wife or Husband receives $50,000 plus one-half of balance
  • Child or Children receive one-half of balance divided equally
  • Grandchildren take their deceased parent’s share unless all children be deceased, then all grandchildren share equally.
  • Wife or Husband and Child or Children (one or more not Child of Survivor) or their Descendants
  • Wife or Husband receives one-half
  • Child receives one-half or Children receive one-half divided equally
  • Grandchildren take their deceased parent’s share unless all children be deceased, then all grandchildren share equally.

If You Die Leaving: Wife or Husband but No Children or Their Descendants and

(a) If your Mother or Father survives

  • Wife or Husband receives $50,000 plus one-half of balance
  • Mother and Father, or survivor, receives other one-half of balance

(b) If no Parent survives

  • Wife or Husband receives all.

If You Die Leaving: Child or Children but No Wife or Husband

  • Child or Children receive all divided equally
  • Grandchildren take their deceased parent’s share unless all children be deceased, then all grandchildren share equally.

If You Die Leaving: No Wife or Husband and No Children or their Descendants and

(a) If your Mother or Father survives

  • Mother and Father, or survivor, receives all

(b) If No Parent survives

  • Brothers and Sisters receive all divided equally
  • Nieces
    and Nephews take their deceased parent’s share unless all brothers and
    sisters be deceased, then all Nieces and Nephews share equally.

More Remote Cases (under this classification) are Not Covered Here

the State of New Jersey takes your property if you leave no wife or
husband; child or its descendants; parent; brother or sister of their
descendants; grandparent; or uncle or aunt or their children; or their

NOTE: Any person who fails to survive the
decedent by 120 hours is deemed to have predeceased the decedent for
purposes in intestate succession.

 If you are looking to sell a house that has been through probate or is currently in probate please contact Scott at


The assets in a New Jersey Probate case is usually broken up into two classes, real and personal property.  Real property consistes of mainly real estate, or houses, vacant land or commercial property.  While personal property is pretty much everything else, such as bank accounts, the family car or collection of rare stamps.  The distribution of the assets can be a contentious ordeal and can drag on for years if someone contests.  

The last will and testimate would normally contain the guidelines for what happens to the estate's personal property.  It is very common for those benefiting under the will to inherit items of particular sentimental or real value, while the remaining items be sold at auction or to a third party such as a consignment shop or an investor.  Any contents not sold and are of little value can be disposed of.

A house that passes through probate in New Jersey can be sold with the approval of the court before the probate process has been completed.  Sometimes this is needed in order to pay off taxes or liens on the property.  The house can also be sold if nobody is interested in taking care of the house and would rather divide the proceeds up between the beneficiaries.   Some situations can arise where there are multiple heirs inline to inherit the house.  If one of them wants to stay and live in the house and the other(s) would prefer to sell off the property a conflict can occur.  This however can be avoided with a properly written will the specifically dictates what should happen with the house and directs the beneficiaries how to handle the situation.  

To complicate the matter, sometimes the house will not have to go through the probate property.  If the house was jointly owned by a couple, in most circumstances, the surviving spous will become the sole owner.  This is called a tenancy by the Entirety.  Another type of ownership can supersede a will and that is a Joint Tenancy with rights of survivorship.  Sometimes an elderly parent will create a joint tenancy with a child of their family home.  This is done to avoid the probate process and allow ownership of the house to pass immediately to the child upon death.

In most cases the best course of action is to sell the house.  It helps avoid family battles and can be an easy way to put thousands of dollars into your pocket.  If you are looking to sell a house that has been through probate or is currently in probate please contact Scott at

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