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Widow does not want to take on late husband’s timeshare. Can she refuse?
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Widow does not want to take on late husband’s timeshare. Can she refuse?

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Q: I have a question about the timeshare property that was owned by my late husband. My husband died of a sudden heart attack recently, without a will. He was the sole owner of the timeshare and he had no estate and there’s no probate case pending.

I don’t want the timeshare. I just mailed the timeshare company the death certificate. Since my husband had no estate, I think I can abandon it if I wanted to. Am I correct? My name is not on the deed.

A: We often get letters from timeshare owners asking us how they can sell or get out from under their timeshare agreements. For many vacationing travelers, the lure of a timeshare is too much and they take a leap of faith and buy one. Most — at least from our mailbox — don’t imagine there would come a time that they wouldn’t want it. But five, 10 or 20 years later, they’re paying monthly for something that goes unused.

The question then becomes, why is it so hard to get rid of timeshares?

For our readers who haven’t yet run across this quasi-real estate opportunity, a timeshare purchase generally involves the payment of an upfront sum to a timeshare company. In exchange for that payment, the buyer gets the right to use a property for a week or so every year. Frequently, the timeshare buyer gets the exact same week every year in exactly the same unit. Sometimes, and this is happening more frequently, the timeshare buyer gets allotted a certain number of “points,” which allows them to apply their timeshare slot to a larger number of properties in a network, with properties located all over the globe.

There are many different types of timeshare properties and many different types of companies that handle them. Some companies are affiliated with large hotel companies and allow you to convert your weekly ownership right to hotel points and then stay at different hotel properties around the United States or around the world.

Many future timeshare owners go to the “free” lunch or dinner, checkbook in hand, and think that the initial payment is all they’ll be making. Not quite. Depending on what type of arrangement you buy into, the buyer must also pay yearly assessments and yearly real estate taxes. Beyond that, if you do buy in a specific property, and something goes wrong, you may be asked to kick in for special assessments down the line.

The question all timeshare buyers have to ask is whether the purchase is worth it now and for the next 20 years, and whether it is right for them.

Some people love their timeshares. And for those wondering about the company we keep, let us assure you we do know people who purchased timeshare properties and happily used those properties year after year. For these owners, the ability to go to the same place, at the same time each year, has been a great benefit to them and their families. They enjoy it when their families are young, and by themselves as they get older, and give the weeks away to other family members when they no longer want or need them.

The problems come when the timeshare owners’ fortunes change, and they no longer want or can afford the payments. Selling it is the trick, and you have to be very careful to avoid getting taken.

Depending on the type of timeshare you own, the only way you can sell it will be to some other buyer willing to buy into your exact week in the exact property you want. In these situations, the timeshare companies will often charge a transfer fee on the sale of a timeshare, but in others the timeshare company will assist in the sale and expect a commission. For hotel timeshare properties, you may only be able to use the hotel timeshare office to sell your timeshare points, if you’re allowed to sell or transfer the points at all. Again, expect to be charged a fee for that service. Sometimes, you will be able to just give up your timeshare points, and sometimes you’ll be told that no one wants them.

In the worst situations, you can’t sell the timeshare because no one wants it. At any price. Even free.

A whole cottage industry of online timeshare sellers has cropped up. You have to be very careful about which website you choose to work with, since many of them have racked up poor customer reviews and many complaints. Be wary of websites that require you to pay hundreds of dollars upfront for listing your timeshare. And thoroughly check out all of the fees that you’ll be charged. In addition, make sure you have the right to sell your timeshare on your own. Sometimes, that right is restricted.

What happens if you simply don’t pay the expenses and pretend like you don’t own the timeshare? Well, when a timeshare owner fails to make the monthly or annual payment, the management company can sue the owner, send the debt to a collection agency or take over the timeshare unit.

That leads us to you. Your husband purchased the timeshare in his name, and he has since passed on. The payments obligations on the timeshare were your husband’s and when he died, that responsibility passed on to his estate. It does not matter whether your husband died with or without a will, with or without assets or with or without debts. When he died, all of his assets and all of his debts belonged to his estate.

As his surviving spouse, you are entitled to the timeshare but can refuse to accept it. So, where does that leave you? If you don’t own it and you are not responsible for his estate, the timeshare company might be out of luck going after your husband’s estate and might just take over the timeshare and leave it at that. Depending on the state in which you live, as the surviving spouse, you might have a responsibility to take care of the affairs of your husband’s estate. But what your responsibility might be and what duties you might have to dispose of assets is dictated by state law.

In the meantime, you did the right thing by sending the death certificate to the timeshare company. We wouldn’t say that you are abandoning the timeshare but, rather, that you are not accepting the ownership of the timeshare resulting from your husband’s death. Unless the laws in your state require you to take ownership or to pay for your husband’s debts, you should be fine.

On the other hand, now that the timeshare company knows of your husband’s death, we think the timeshare company should close his account, take over the timeshare, and that would leave them free to resell the timeshare to another person.

A local estate attorney might be able to provide clarity or other options. Our condolences on your loss.

(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through their website, bestmoneymoves.com.)

Omaha World-Herald: Inspired Living

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