[A guest blog spot by ISS Editor Drew Whitney.]
I recently attended a funeral for a person who passed away at the age of 50. He was a rather nomadic character who had lived out West and in New England. His death was shockingly unexpected, as he seemed to be the picture of good health. He was not married but had a girlfriend of 10 years, and three siblings, who loved him dearly.
I only met the man briefly and didnt know him personally because he was the brother of a relatively new friend of mine. I tell you this so my discussion is not misinterpreted as callous. So, where am I going with all of this?
Heres where it gets interesting: He had a storage unit where he had secured some of his personal belongings in a facility out West, until he could organize transport to his home on Eastern turf. His girlfriend, a woman of financial means, claims everything he owned was purchased by her, for him, so she is entitled to it all. My friend says that is ridiculous; plus, she would like some of his things for sentimental reasons.
The storage agreement has both of them listed as emergency contacts. Regardless, neither of these women is listed as tenant. Hence, the storage owner is quite likely in a little bit of a pickle, as are the two arguing over rights to the deceaseds stored items.
Curious, I did a little research of my own, which brought me to our own magazines website and an article by legal guru, Jeff Greenberger. He cautions operators to steer clear of becoming a middle person in these situations. Operators do not make the decision of who receives property in a storage unit when the tenant passes away.
When a tenant dies, says Greenberger, the operators should ask emergency contacts several key questions: Is there a spouse? Did the deceased have a will? Is the will being handled in probate court? Fortunately for my friend, the brothers estate will be handled through probate. Its likely shell have opportunity to collect some of his mementos.
Greenberger also advises operators never to accept payments from anyone other than the tenant, because doing so may impact the decision of ownership. Not just anybody can collect the contents of a storage unit, of course, and laws of ownership vary from state to state, making this issue even more complicated.
To sum it up, its always best for self-storage operators to collect as much info about tenants signing leases: relatives, emergency-contact info, liens on the stored property if they exist, and who can store property in the unit. As Greenberger concludes, The more information you have, the better armed you will be to release property in the event of your tenant's death, and the less likely you will be sued for doing the best you can.
Read Greenbergers complete article, When a Tenant Passes Away, at www.insideselfstorage.com/articles/340/340_311Legal.html.