It is very typical for a Will to direct the Executor to pay the Decedent’s valid debts. When my clients own real estate encumbered by a mortgage, they often want the successor owner of the real estate to continue paying the mortgage. For these clients, I place a provision in their Wills giving the Executor the discretion to continue paying the mortgage until the successor owner takes over the payments.

When the successor owner of the real estate is also the residuary beneficiary of your estate, it may not matter whether your estate or the successor owner pays the mortgage. If your estate pays the mortgage, the residuary estate passing to the successor owner will be less. Nevertheless, it provides more flexibility for the successor owner if you allow the mortgage to remain in place. The successor beneficiary can pay off the mortgage early if there is not a need to maintain the mortgage.

Things are not as easy when the successor owner of the real estate is not the residuary beneficiary of your estate. Now it makes a big difference as to whether your estate or the successor owner pays the mortgage.

If you decide that you want the successor owner to pay the mortgage, there is another consideration. The bank may file a claim against your estate and require the Executor to pay the mortgage. Depending upon whether the successor owner was jointly liable on the debt, your estate may have a claim against the successor owner to pay at least a portion of the debt. If you do not want your Executor to be in the position of having to sue the successor owner of the house, you should condition any bequest to the successor owner on their agreement to assume the mortgage. If you take this approach, the bequest to the successor owner will be reduced to the extent, if any, that your estate is required to make payments on the mortgage.

There are 2 methods by which the successor owner can acquire the property.

First, when you own the property, your Will simply devises the property to the successor owner. You can make the devise conditional on the devisee’s assumption of the mortgage.

Alternatively, when you own the property as tenants by the entirety with your spouse or jointly with right of survivorship, the successor owner will acquire the property by operation of law. Your Will cannot require the successor owner to assume the mortgage. However, if your Will makes a bequest of other assets to the successor owner, this bequest can be conditioned upon the successor owner’s assumption of the mortgage. If the bequest is less valuable than the mortgage, the successor owner might forfeit the bequest rather than assume the mortgage.

In summary, you need to decide who you want to pay your mortgage and draft your Will accordingly.