Many homeowners make additions or other home improvements without getting permits from local authorities. Buyers can be held liable for the tab.
We have made an offer to buy a home. The sellers' disclosure statement notes that the bedroom that they added last year was built without a permit from the city's building department. If we proceed with the purchase and the city later finds out about the unpermitted remodel, would we have to pay for any needed work to bring the addition up to code, or would the sellers have to pay, because they added the bedroom without getting the necessary permits?
You will have to pay. The sellers screwed up by failing to get a permit for the new bedroom, but their disclosure essentially transfers the burden for any future work to you.
It's only a matter of time before local officials discover that the new bedroom was constructed without the necessary permits. If you're lucky, the building department will only require that you pay for a "post-permit" and a penalty. However, if the work that the sellers did falls short of meeting local codes, you could be required to spend thousands of dollars in upgrades - or might even be forced to tear the new bedroom down.
You must act quickly. Before the deal closes, contact two or three contractors and ask them to inspect the new bedroom and provide a written estimate of how much it would cost to make any changes if the addition doesn't meet building codes. You could then use the estimates to ask the sellers to help pay for the needed work, or perhaps lower your offering price to offset the cost of the permits and improvements after you move in.
We are interested in forming the type of living trust that you recently wrote about so our home can avoid probate court and instead pass quickly to our heirs. But if we create a trust, would our heirs be able to find immediately out how we plan to divvy up our estate when we die?
No, your heirs won't have access to the trust's details unless you voluntarily give them a copy. If you keep the details secret until you die, the successor trustee that you hand-picked when you first created the trust will contact your heirs after you pass away and then distribute the assets according to your wishes.
In fact, an often-overlooked benefit of creating an inexpensive trust is that it provides privacy, even after its homeowners pass away.
If you and your spouse merely have a will, all of its contents and final directions will become a matter of public record the minute it goes to probate court. Conversely, because a trust is a private document that doesn't have to go through probate, it won't automatically be opened for public inspection - which, in turn, may discourage disputes among heirs and costly lawsuits against the estate.