Can a Tenant's Estate Legally Break a Lease Due to Tenant Death?

Last Updated: October 10, 2023 by Phil Ahn

A tenant’s estate will be able to break a lease early when a tenant dies during the lease term.

When Can a Tenant Death Be Used to Break a Lease?

A tenant’s death qualifies as a legitimate reason to terminate the lease so long as the tenant who signed the lease was the sole occupant over 18. If minors live with the deceased, the landlord will work out details with the minors’ new legal guardian(s). 

How to Prove or Verify a Tenant Death

To show proof or verify a tenant’s death, the estate may provide the deceased tenant’s death certificate to the landlord or a landlord may request a tenant’s death certificate from the corresponding Department of Health.

The personal representative of the deceased tenant’s estate, also known as an executor or administrator, should provide the landlord with a copy of the tenant’s will or a court order naming the person and describing their role as a representative of the estate. 

How to Terminate a Lease Due to a Tenant Death

In order for a representative of the estate to terminate a lease early due to tenant death, here are the steps that a tenant must provide:

  • The landlord with written notice within a reasonable time after the death. Reasonable time generally means 14 days from when the tenant’s estate finds out about the tenant’s death.
  • The representative must remove the tenant’s belongings from the property.
  • The representative must sign an inventory of the removed property.

Termination of the lease is not effective immediately. The lease becomes a part of the tenant’s estate and will be managed by the executor of the estate. Therefore, it is up to the executor of the estate to either continue paying the rent for the full term or returning possession of the rental premises and terminating the lease. 

If released, the tenant’s estate will still be liable for any past-due rent and any damages to the premises that are beyond normal wear and tear. Until the lease is fully terminated, the tenant’s estate will still be responsible for rent.