When The Two Sisters Came A Calling…
Creighton Gallup, Esq

What happens when the family of a recently deceased member shows up at the Cooperative office expecting immediate access to the unit and presents you a Power of Attorney as their authority?

Deaths of members can be tricky scenarios as the Cooperative is tasked with balancing sympathy for the grieving family, while at the same time practicing a uniform policy which protects the Cooperative from potential lawsuits. Don’t panic by handing over the unit  keys as your conscious may suggest.  Remember: no good deed goes unpunished. Simply follow some general guidelines and it will work out.

First, let’s quickly dispel the Power of Attorney issue, or POA’s to which they are often abbreviated.  POA’s by their very existence are finite in duration, and expire with the deceased.  Anyone  attempting  to use this as authority to get access to the unit is holding monopoly money, particularly to the well trained site manager who is now armed with this knowledge.

The safest route is to be up front with the family and explain your willingness to cooperative with them, but only after he/she presents legitimate documentation of his/her authority such as an order appointing him/her as the Personal Representative or another letter of authority from the county probate court where your cooperative is located. Always, contact your Cooperative Attorney and provide him/her with a copy of the documentation so you can be properly advised of it’s legal sufficiency, you will want to do this prior to emailing any representations to the representative or filing other action.  

Now that you have the necessary documentation to grant access to the deceased member’s cooperative unit, you also have someone who is officially responsible for access to the cooperative unit and the decedent’s personal property.  This means that a claim by a third –party that the authorized person is not entitled to enter the decedent’s cooperative unit is shifted to the one holding the probate court paperwork not the Cooperative.  A decedent’s authorized personal representative is also important because without him/her, the sale of the membership most often becomes a financial liability because of accruing unpaid carrying charges and fees associated with maintenance.  As time goes by, it runs through any remaining equity necessary for refurbishing and getting the sale ready.
Sometimes there is not much time for family members to get things in order.  For example, if a family member, without appropriate documentation, comes forward requesting access to the decedent’s cooperative unit only to obtain a few of the decedent’s personal effects for the funeral, you can still work with him/her. 

We do not advocate unfettered access to any person with out legal authorization, but, if absolutely necessary and for such a limited purpose, you can accommodate as long as he/she is accompanied by the police and /or a representative of the Cooperative as long as no other items are removed.  Not every case will fit this example though, therefore, you should always contact your Cooperative Attorney to discuss the facts of your situation in advance.

The goal is not to be obstructive or exacerbate the family’s grief, but rather insulate the Cooperative from a lawsuit involving disgruntled heirs and squabbling siblings.  Suppose the long lost brother from out of state gets wind that his sisters have been pillaging through the family heirlooms that were promised or willed to him.  The Cooperative will find itself unnecessarily ensnarled in the grieving family’s drama.  Like my dad always said: not my circus, not my monkeys.  Let drama find it’s home elsewhere.

When these scenarios arise, contact your Cooperative Attorney and keep these thoughts in mind.