Property: Home truths

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No will

My mother recently passed away without leaving a will, and my sister and I would like to stay in the house and continue with the mortgage payments. As the mortgage is in my mother's sole name, do we need to change the names on the mortgage or can we simply set up a new direct debit?

M Morris, Cardiff

In this unfortunate situation I would suggest that you contact your local Probate Registry, which will advise you on how you and your sister can be issued with a "grant of representation", which is proof that you are entitled to deal with your mother's estate.

Most people will usually use a solicitor to help them deal with the estate, but this is not a legal requirement. You should then contact the mortgage lender, which will be able to advise you on the best way forward.

If your mother did not have life assurance to cover the outstanding mortgage, the lender may suggest that you transfer the mortgage into your names. The transfer may be subject to certain guidelines being met by you and your sister. The mortgage lender will be able to explain the whole process in greater detail for you.

Mortgage by proxy

I have a fixed-rate mortgage in my sole name. I will be working abroad for most of this year while my wife will stay at home. My fixed rate will end while I am abroad in April. I want to take advantage of any new offers that are available then. Will my wife be able to choose a rate for me?

C Harmston, Nottingham

Not without legal authority from you. The mortgage is only in your name and so your lender is prevented from even discussing your mortgage with your wife, unless it has your written agreement to do so.

I would suggest that while you are abroad you grant either a general or specific Power of Attorney for your wife to act on your behalf. A Power of Attorney is a deed whereby the owner of a property authorises someone else to carry out certain tasks on their behalf - for example, to sign a conveyance or transfer because the owner will be unable to do so at the relevant time. It can be very useful should an emergency arise whereby your wife needs to sign documents on your behalf.

Deal for wheels

My wife and I want to buy a new car and have been told that we could take out a further advance on our property through our mortgage lender. What are the advantages of taking a further advance as opposed to a personal loan?

C Adams, Sheffield

The main advantage of taking out a further advance is that the interest rate will usually be lower. Another could be that your monthly mortgage payment and loan payment can be made at the same time, which may help you to organise your finances.

However, some mortgage lenders state that extra borrowing for cars can only be taken over a certain period of time, which can be a restriction. It will depend on your individual financial situation as to whether a further advance or a personal loan best suits your needs. Your lender will be able to advise you further.

q George Wise is managing director of NatWest UK Mortgage Services.

q Send your queries on practical property issues to the following address: Home Truths, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax: 0171-293 2043; e-mail: sundayproperty