Seniors: Avoid lump-sum mortgage payoff

Alternatives help those on fixed incomes from becoming 'house rich and cash poor'

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 21, 2012

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DEAR BENNY: In a warranty deed, my grandmother conveyed 200 acres of farmland, for her life and on her death, to her bodily heirs.

My mother, who is now 102 years old, had two children: my deceased sister and me. When my sister was alive, we naturally assumed that we were her bodily heirs and would share equally. My sister had four children, one of whom died and left two children.

So who are the bodily heirs now? And how do they share? Will I still get half? --Art

DEAR ART: I cannot provide you with specific legal advice, but can give you my opinion. The concept of "bodily heirs" is language that was used many years ago, but has fallen out of favor because it has caused confusion in a number of courts.

Oversimplified, it refers to "lineal descendants." According to the legal dictionaries, a "lineal descendant" is a person who is in direct line to an ancestor, such as a child, grandchild, great-grandchild, etc. This is distinguished from a "collateral descendant," which is a husband, wife, brother, sister, uncle or aunt.

In your case, your mother is the lineal descendant. I am assuming that your grandmother is deceased, based on the age of your mother. If my assumption is correct, then your mother is now the property owner.

If your mother has a last will, then the property will be distributed pursuant to the terms of that document. If there is no will, then the laws in your state (called "intestacy") will control.

Presumably, on your mother's death -- unless there is something to the contrary in her will -- you will get half of the property. The other half will have to be decided either by your mother's will or the laws in your state. Because there are many parties now involved, it's too complicated to explain in this column.

Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to

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