Who pays for solar panels if you die? Grieving family stuck with bill

Investing in solar panels is a big decision. One Houston family called KPRC 2 Investigates because shortly after their mother signed a solar contract, she died. The solar panel company told them the 25-year payment plan wouldn’t die with her. Investigator Amy Davis has more about your rights and solar panel contracts.

Family trying to sort out mother’s solar panel contract

While you’ve thought about the cost and the savings on your electric bill you may not have considered who may be burdened with your decision if you die. Single mother Diane McGee worked hard to raise her two sons Desmond and Darrell.

“Our mother was loved. She was very kind. She always kept to herself,” Desmond McGee Edwards.

Darrel lived with his mother and remembered the day two solar salesmen knocked on the door last fall.

“I was on the way to work, and I just wanted to say something. But my mom would just give me that look like, ‘I got this. You know... don’t worry about it. Go to work.’”

Diane did decide to install solar panels on her modest home on the far Southwest side near Willowridge high school. Sunrun put them up in February. Just a few months later in June she died unexpectedly.

What happens to solar panels if the homeowner dies? KPRC 2 Investigates helps a family dealing with solar panel bill confusion after the death of a loved one. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

After the grief of losing their mother, her adult children turned to financial matters. Darrel assumed the mortgage of the home they shared and could take over the monthly payments. But he couldn’t pay the monthly solar payment. By the end of the 25-year agreement the panels would cost $52,917.60. Desmond called Sunrun.

“We gave them a call to let them know our mother had passed away and we wanted to end the contract,” he explains.

Family stuck with solar panel bill

But he says a Sunrun representative told him it’s not that easy. Even though Diane McGee had died Sunrun said they either had to continue the payments or transfer the contract to someone else.

“I feel like they are targeting low income and elderly people of this age. Why would you sign up someone who is 65 years-old at the time to a 25-year payment?” said Desmond.

What happens to solar panels if the homeowner dies? KPRC 2 Investigates helps a family dealing with solar panel bill confusion after the death of a loved one. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Sunrun is the same California company we told you about in June that sold 82-year-old Bernard Mosley and his 75-year-old wife Tasa solar panels that would have cost them $67,000 by the end of their 25-year agreement. A door-to-door sales rep told them the panels would be paid for by the government.

KPRC 2 Investigates solar power sale confusion. A couple says a solar panel salesperson lied to them about solar panels and now they are stuck with a big bill. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“The first thing I thought was. ‘Oh my God. They’re sending us these bills. What happens if we don’t pay these bills? Will they be able to you know, take our home?’”

What happens if you just stop paying your solar panel bill?

Sunrun removed the Mosley’s panels and canceled their contract when we contacted them. But we had the same question = what would happen if Desmond and Darrell just didn’t pay?

“On this contract, if you don’t pay, I mean their remedy is to take back the panels,” Jon-Ross Trevino, Lone Star Legal Aid.

We asked attorney Jon-Ross Trevino of Lone Star Legal Aid to review McGee’s contract with Sunrun. He showed us that it explicitly states, “The solar system will not be subject to any lien. and neither Sunrun nor our installation partners will apply a lien to your title to your home.”

Instead Sunrun has a lien on the solar panels, which they own.

“They only have a lien on the solar panels. And so, their remedy in this kind of instance is to take back the solar panels because they can no longer sue the dead individual.”

Take back the solar panels is exactly what Desmond and Darrell wanted Sunrun to do. After we contacted the company it sent the McGees a cancellation agreement. They’ll cancel the contract and remove the panels. We asked Sunrun to explain why its employees told the McGees they contract could not be cancelled but the company did not. We can tell you that typically creditors can’t go after relatives for unsecured debt. If you owe money on a mortgage, they can take the house, or they could take your car for an unpaid car loan. And since McGee wasn’t married, she didn’t have a spouse who would be obligated to pay off the panel.

Do you have a question about solar panels? In this episode of Ask Amy, Amy answers your top questions about solar panels. Email AskAmy@kprc.com if you need help.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.