Are you struggling with what you need to do to get ready to put a home on the market after a death? A truly challenging and emotionally charged issue is addressing what technically is known as an unattended attended. An unattended death is one in which an individual dies alone. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the body of the deceased person is not discovered for what can prove to be an extended period of time. The remains might not be discovered for days, weeks, or even months. An unattended death is also referred to as an undiscovered death.
Leading up to an unattended death, the person who died likely lived a fairly isolated life. For example, a person might be elderly and little contact with family members. As a result of the limited contact with others, what can prove to be a notable amount of time can elapse before anyone realizes something is amiss.
If you own or are otherwise responsible for a home in which an unattended death occurred, you likely have a good many questions. These very well may include what you need to do to get a home ready for sale in the aftermath of an undiscovered or unattended death.
Common Causes of Unattended Death There are certain underlying causes of death that more often are associated with a situation in which a person dies alone and the remains aren’t promptly discovered. These include:
Discovery of an Unattended Death If you are the individual who comes upon an undiscovered death, you need to follow this protocol:
Retreat from the scene of the death (biohazards will be present at the scene of a undiscovered death that can cause illness)
Keep others away from the scene (for the sake of their health and because an official investigation needs to occur to confirm the manner and cause of death)
Call 911 (advise of the situation at hand) If you are the next of kin, contact a funeral home. Explain the situation. The funeral home will not come to the residence to transport the remains. Rather, the remains will be conveyed to the county coroner’s office for an autopsy and other forensic testing to confirm the manner and cause of death. The funeral home will transport the remains from the medical examiner’s office once the autopsy is completed. This usually is done within 48 hours.
Biohazard Cleanup As mentioned, an unattended death results in a biohazardous situation, an issue that persists even after the remains have been removed from the scene. In theory, you can undertake the cleaning process yourself. However, that is never a recommended course. There are inherent risks associated with biohazard cleanup. These include physical health dangers in the for of dangerous germs than can cause serious disease. Risks also include the significant emotional challenges associated with cleaning up the scene of an unattended death of a loved one or even someone who was your tenant. In the end, the recommendation is that you retain the services of a professional unattended death cleanup company.
Legal Disclosure to a Prospective Buyer
If you make the decision to sell a residence following an unattended death (and many people do), you need to make sure that you comply with the requirements of California law or the laws of any others state. Part of the preparation for sale process includes making sure you have a legally acceptable strategy in place for making required disclosures to a prospective buyer.
When a death occurs in a residence, a home seller has the legal duty to disclose it to a prospective seller for a period of three years following the passing. The only exception is that federal law prohibits you from telling a prospective buyer that a person died in the residence of an AIDS-related disease.
A strict reading of this section of California (and likely in most if not all other states) probably gives proverbial “wiggle room” from disclosing the circumstances surrounding the delay in the discovery of the deceased person’s remains. With that said, other provisions of the law come into play. If a prospective buyer asks questions about the circumstances surrounding the death, you need to provide honest responses.
In addition, the law also addresses a situation in which an issue at a residence might not specifically need to be disclosed but nonetheless can reasonably presumed to be something of potential material interest to a buyer. For example, a fair assumption is that a prospective buyer is likely to consider that a person died an unattended death at a residence an important fact. It is reasonable to conclude that for some people an unattended death in a residence might impact that individual’s thoughts on buying a particular residence. Thus, if it’s fair to conclude a reasonable buyer would want this information as part of all data presented, such a disclosure should be made.
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