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Unoccupied Properties: How to Keep a Probate Property Safe

When someone dies that lives alone, it’s likely that their property will become unoccupied. The house could remain empty through the entire time of probate. The outcome of the unoccupied property is determined by the deceased person’s will. This can take weeks or even months to process, and during this time the property will stand empty.

Because the executor or executors of the deceased have a duty to safeguard and protect the assets of the estate – including the property – adequate insurance needs to be arranged during this period.

Unoccupied Property Insurance

It might be possible to transfer any existing home insurance into the name of the deceased’s surviving spouse or predecessors. However, most of the time insurers are likely to insist upon an entirely new insurance policy.

Even when a simple transfer has been made, there are other factors to consider, especially if a property is going to be left vacant and unoccupied during the probate period.

Insurance for the unoccupied house needs to replace any existing home insurance. Once the property has been empty for more than a number of consecutive days, restrictions and exclusions apply to the level of cover offered by standard home insurance. 

Some insurers may impose those restrictions after 60 days, but other insurers will restrict the cover after 30 to 45 consecutive days.

The reason for the restriction in cover from insurers is the simple fact that an unoccupied property is exposed to greater risks than one in which someone is at home on a more or less continuous basis:

  • A  minor fault may develop into a serious and damaging incident if there is no one there to spot what has happened in time
  • An empty property attracts all manner of unwanted attention, from the likes of burglars, arsonists, squatters, vandals and other intruders.

With normal cover restricted, even lapsed altogether in some cases, unoccupied home insurance restores the protection that the building and its contents still need.

What does unoccupied insurance cover?

Unoccupied house insurance is essential when a property becomes vacant, different insurers will provide different levels of protection. There are a number of factors that are essential:

  • Buildings insurance, to protect the structure and fabric of the building itself
  • Contents insurance protecting against the risks of theft, loss or damage to the contents
  • Public liability insurance as indemnity against claims from visitors, neighbours or members of the public who suffer an injury or have their own property damaged through contact with the empty property – even those trespassers who may have entered the house illegally

Duration of the cover

Just as the process of probate may take an indefinite and indeterminate period of time, so too does unoccupied property insurance need to reflect that fact.

Fortunately, unoccupied property insurance for the deceased’s former home is typically flexible enough to cope with the vagaries of time before the completion of probate. 

If needs be, short term or temporary cover may be arranged and extended on a month by month basis – rather than having to pay for a full 12 months of cover as most other insurance policies are likely to insist.

Keep an Unoccupied House Safe

It's an unfortunate fact of life that an empty property can sometimes be something of a magnet for trouble.

However, problems are always better avoided than dealt with. So, while a property is vacant, there are 8 simple ways that you can ensure it stays safe:

1. Disguise the fact that the property is empty

This is typically fairly easy and involves things such as making sure there are no visible accumulations of post, keeping all external areas and gardens tidy and perhaps putting some lights on timer switches

2. Disconnect utility suppliers at the source

Gas and water continuing to circulate in pipes around an unoccupied property may be an accident waiting to happen. In fact, some unoccupied property cover may make this a mandatory requirement

3. Avoid advertising the fact that it is empty

Be a little cautious about just who you tell that your property is standing unoccupied and if it is due to renovations, ask builders to avoid hanging advertising signs outside of windows

4. Move things around

Thieves and potential squatters don't like uncertainty about the occupancy status of a property. Therefore, periodically visit the property and move around ornaments visible in windows and adjust the positions of curtains

5. Notify trusted neighbours

This may be something that requires judgment, as it might run contrary to some of the above advice but if you know and trust a neighbour, ask them to keep an eye on your property. They may quickly notify the police or you if anything looks untoward

6. Install additional security

It is true that you cannot turn a house into a fortress but many thieves and vandals prefer easy access and low-risk opportunities. Things such as professional security locks and bolts plus alarms may be a serious deterrent to many;

7. Visit the property regularly to check for problems

Things such as pest infestations or a leaking pipe are best seen and dealt with immediately rather than being allowed to cause cumulative damage. Once again, some policies may make this a mandatory obligation as part of providing unoccupied house cover;

8. Do not disconnect or place telephone lines on answerphones

Some thieves try to assess the status of properties over the phone and disconnected lines or permanent answerphones are sometimes seen as a green light for illegal entry. Instead, consider having a number rerouted to your mobile or your own landline.

Sometimes just a little thought and preventative action may help avoid some of the more common problems and it might be something that helps you achieve a little more peace of mind.