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Til Death Do Us Part, Or Do We?: Collecting Community Association Assessments from a Deceased Owner in Michigan

Til Death Do Us Part, Or Do We?: Collecting Community Association Assessments from a Deceased Owner in Michigan

            The 2021 Michigan Community Association Fact Book (the “Fact Book”) compiled by the Foundation for Association Research estimates that from July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2021 the Michigan population aged 65 and over residing in Community Associations increased from 17.7% to 18.1%.  These percentages exceeded the national average for Community Association residents aged 65 and over by 1.2% in 2019 and 1.3% in 2021. (See 2020 Fact Book and 2021 Fact Book.  As the population of their communities age, Community Associations will be faced with the question of who is responsible for payment of Association assessments when an Owner passes away.  This article examines the various scenarios when an Owner passes away and the steps an Association should and can take to recover unpaid assessments.

The first and easiest scenario is one where there is 1. a surviving joint tenant (i.e., the deed is in the name of the deceased owner and another surviving person or entity); 2. the Owner has deeded the property by recorded Lady Bird or Enhanced Life Estate Deed to their heirs; or 3. the Owner deeds the property into a Trust.  With a Lady Bird or Enhanced Life Estate Deed, the Owner maintains complete ownership and control of the property during their lifetime and the property passes to the heirs named in the Lady Bird or Enhanced Life Estate Deed upon the Owners death.  With a Trust, the property is deeded to the Trust and the Trust retains ownership and control of the property under the direction of the Trustee or Successor Trustee of the Estate.  In these situations, the joint tenant, heirs, or the Trust retain title to the property and remain responsible for all delinquent and future assessments.  The Association would be able proceed with its collections process as set forth in its Governing Documents in either one of these situations.

The second scenario, one where the deceased Owner is the sole title holder to the property, does not leave the Association without options for the collection of unpaid assessments, but does take some additional research and steps for the Association to realize any collection of the debt.  In this situation, the Association should send the file to its counsel as soon as it learns of the Owner’s death.  The counsel can review information provided by the Association and public records to determine if the deceased Owner’s heirs opened a probate estate for the deceased owner.  If an open probate estate is found, the Association’s counsel can file a claim in the estate to be paid from the sale of any estate assets.  The claim puts the heirs and other Creditors of the estate on notice that the Association has an outstanding balance and interest in the proceed from the sale of any estate assets.  Simultaneous to making the claim, the Association counsel can, subject to the Association’s governing documents, also record a lien with the County Register of Deeds to further secure the Association’s claim.  If the proceeds from the sale of estate assets is not sufficient to pay the Association’s claim, and the mortgage or County taxing authority have not foreclosed on the property, the Association would be able to proceed with foreclosing its lien on the property and recovering the amounts it is owed.

If there is no open probate estate, the Association’s counsel can, subject to the Association’s governing documents, record a lien with the County Register of Deeds to put any heirs and other Creditors on notice that there are delinquent assessments owed on the property.  If the delinquency in assessments is not cured after the recording of the lien, the Association can proceed with foreclosure on the property to recover the debt it is owed, but must follow any foreclosure procedures set forth in its documents or the Michigan Foreclosure Statute.

While other scenarios may exist, those laid out above are the most common.  It is important that the Association contact its counsel as soon as possible after receiving notice or discovering that an Owner is deceased so that the counsel can investigate the situation and meet any deadlines laid out by the Court in the event a probate estate is open.  The bottom line is that Til Death Do Us Part is not the end of the relationship between an Owner and a Community Association.

Melissa Francis is an attorney with Hirzel Law, PLC, and focuses her practice on community association law, collections, bankruptcy, and estate planning.  Ms. Francis received her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Michigan State University James Madison College and her Juris Doctor degree from the Wayne State University Law School.  Ms. Francis was an associate at Zelmanski, Danner & Fioritto, PLLC before joining Hirzel Law, PLC.  She has been a presenter at several conferences, including the 2019 Community Associations Institute National Conference in New Orleans where she presented on Bankruptcy and Associations.  Ms. Francis can be reached at (248) 478-1800 or


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Melissa Francis has been a practicing attorney for 21 years. She is a graduate of Plymouth-Canton High School and earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations from Michigan State University’s James Madison College in 1998. She earned her Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University Law School in 2001. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Michigan, Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts for the Eastern and Western District of Michigan, and the United States Supreme Court. With 19 years of experience in Debtor and Creditor side Bankruptcy practice, Melissa is able to assist Creditor clients exercise their rights in Chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13 Bankruptcy cases. Ms. Francis is also able to help small business clients learn more about their Bankruptcy options under the Bankruptcy Code’s new Subchapter V of Chapter 11. Since association collections matters routinely involve bankruptcy issues, her vast experience in that field provides the Firm with a unique resource that provides tremendous value to the firm’s clients. Melissa is a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute. She was a speaker at the 2019 Community Association Institute Law Conference in New Orleans discussing Consumer Bankruptcy and its impact on Community Associations. She was also a speaker at the 2019 American Bankruptcy Institute Detroit Conference on Veteran’s Day. Ms. Francis is a Past Dean of the Metro Detroit Alumni Senate of Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity International. She is active in the Plymouth-Canton Community as a member of the St. Thomas A’Becket Church choir, Spotlight Players Theater Company, and the Plymouth-Canton Marching Band Alumni Community. Presentations Community Association Institute Michigan Mini Expo – The Anatomy of Pool Infrastructure and Proper Amenity Rules (May 2023). Canton Chamber of Commerce Mast-HER-Mind – Estate Planning with Tracy N. Danner-Bond (February 2023). Canton Township Neighborhood-Know-How – Attorney Roundtable with Edward J. Zelmanski, Gregory J. Fioritto, Tracy N. Danner-Bond, Richard L. Wagner, Jr., and Brooke M. Jordan (September 2022). United Condominium Owners of Michigan – Enforcement of Condominium Documents Against Co-Owners and Tenants with Tracy N. Danner-Bond (August 2022). Community Association Institute Michigan Chapter – Is Your Association Keeping Up With Technology with Kevin Hirzel (March 2020). American Bankruptcy Institute Hon. Steven W. Rhodes Consumer Bankruptcy Conference – Bankruptcy and State Law with Hon. Maria L. Oxholm, Brett A. Border, and Andrew C. Thompson (November 2019). Canton Township Neighborhood-Know-How – Condominium Association Document Amendments with Edward J. Zelmanski, Mark B. Davis, and Stacia A. Miller (May 2019). Canton Township Neighborhood-Know-How – Homeowners’ Associations: Association Document Essentials and Board Powers with Gregory J. Fioritto (April 2019). Community Association Institute National Law Seminar – Trends: Advanced Issues in Bankruptcy with Jacqueline D. Foster and Erin A. Maloney (January 2019). United Condominium Owners of Michigan – Fair Housing Act: Handling Hostile Environment Claims (June 2018). United Condominium Owners of Michigan – Member of Legal Panel Discussion with Tracy N. Danner-Bond, Kevin Hirzel, Daniel Feinberg, John Finklemann, and Jeffrey Vollmer (October 2016). Community Association Institute Michigan Chapter – Bankruptcy Basics with Mark B. Davis (August 2015).

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