Selling a property in probate can be a confusing process – especially after losing a loved one because you will need to meet legal obligations while dealing with your emotions.
While this is an upsetting and trying time, if your loved one hasn’t left a will then you may be looking at selling their home as a result.
And since managing a loved one’s affairs can be complicated, probate is another issue that you’ll have to deal with.
This means that you will need to organise their money, possessions and assets and then distribute these as an inheritance – though only after you have paid any debts or taxes that are due.
If the deceased person has left a will, then you will need to apply for ‘grant of probate’ and be named as the executor or administrator of their estate. There’s a similar situation for those who do not leave a will and you will need to get ‘letters of administration’ instead – for this article we use the word ‘Probate’ to cover both instances.
Probate will last until all of the debts and taxes have been paid and the inheritance passed on.
What is probate sale of the property?
For those interested in what is a probate sale of the property, then if the deceased person owned their home in their sole name, it will need to be transferred into the names of family or loved ones, or ‘beneficiaries’ – if they want to do so – or sold.
If the intention is to sell a home, there are a number of steps that need to be undertaken before approaching estate agents, which include:
- Securing the property: If the property is empty, then you must check the windows and doors are locked where possible. Switch off appliances and ensure there’s no running water anywhere.
- Check for valuables: You should check the property for any valuable items – diligently check every room for things like jewellery and anything that might be worth money. Also, take into account documents such as bonds and share certificates and a will if you find one. It’s also important that you find the property deeds and take them with you to keep in a safe place.
- Have the property valued: You will need to get a probate valuation of the home from a local estate agent – and you could use an online estate agent too. The valuation must then be backdated to the deceased’s date of death and it’s a good idea to get two or three valuations from separate agents, so you have a more accurate idea of how much is the property is worth. (Also, HMRC may insist on three valuations).
- Insurance: Ensure the property is covered – tell the current insurers of the situation or buy a policy. Also, if it’s empty for more than 30 days you will specific vacant property insurance.
You may find that property experts and legal professionals may refer to the deceased person’s home as ‘probate property’ and it’s a common term when you need to handle these matters.
Who owns a property after probate?
In answer to the question, ‘Who owns a property after probate?’ it is the estate’s executor or the person who has been granted probate.
Though they don’t really ‘own’ it since they will not take possession of the title deed – they have the legal power to sell the property on behalf of the deceased’s estate.
The previous section highlighted the importance of securing the deceased’s property and checking carefully for valuables and you may find the property deeds.
However, should your loved one have owned the property for several decades, then you may be in a situation where the title, or property, has not been registered with Land Registry. This is for England and Wales – in Scotland, it is the Land Register of Scotland.
Should this be the case, then it’s the property deeds that will be the proof of ownership and you need these before you can sell the property.
If you have a grant of probate, then you have the legal permission to dispose of the property.
If there are surviving spouses or partners who are wanting to sell, and if the property was held in joint names, then the property can be sold without a grant of probate.
It’s important to appreciate that having a grant of probate means that you will then have the required authority to sign any paperwork that is necessary for completing the sales transaction.
Can you market a property before probate?
Yes, you can market a property before probate has been granted.
As mentioned, acquiring a grant of probate can take up between six and 12 weeks – and sometimes up to six months and even longer for more complex estates.
During this time an estate agent will prepare the particulars and market the property to find a buyer – which is more useful than having to wait for probate before starting this process.
This is also a good reason to apply for probate as early as possible to avoid these potential delays when it comes to selling the property.
This is also the opportunity to source a conveyancing solicitor or conveyancing firm because once the property is on the market, you should be ready for accepting an offer that is made on the property.
You must appreciate that while you can accept an offer to buy a house in probate, you have no legal authority to exchange contracts until you have ‘Grant of Probate’.
How long do you have to sell a deceased estate?
There is no legal definition as to how long you have to sell a deceased’s estate since there may be legal questions and procedures to comply with.
There’s no doubt that selling a probate property may involve lots of red tape and forms by the seller.
It’s always a good idea to make the property look as good as possible before putting it on the market to encourage a speedy sale. So you could:
- Tidy the gardens;
- Paint various surfaces;
- Consider auctioning personal belongings during the selling process.
One of the issues when someone does not have the grant of probate obtained quickly is that the conveyancing delays may become a problem.
This means the potential timescale for selling a house in probate could be:
- Seeking a grant of probate: six weeks to 12 weeks;
- Marketing a property in probate: eight weeks to 12 weeks;
- Conveyancing property in probate: eight weeks to 12 weeks (though this can be shorter).
Can an executor steal the estate?
While the issue of ‘Can an executor steal the estate?’ is an emotional question, it needs to be appreciated that inheriting property is not always seen as a windfall.
Indeed, a probate property can turn into a liability very quickly, rather than being an asset.
It’s important to seek professional legal advice from the very beginning to ensure no questions arise over the handling of the estate, particularly since emotions will probably be running high at what can be a difficult time.
For this reason alone a reputable and reliable solicitor will be worth their fees in placating people and offering advice on how to handle probate.
It’s always a good idea to be open from the outset and communicate regularly with those who will benefit from the house sale.
The executor also needs to bear in mind that should you sell the house quickly at below the market rate, the beneficiaries have the option of suing the executor. This will add to what is already an emotionally difficult time and process.
How long does it take to sell a house through probate?
There is no shortcut to selling a house through probate and after taking in the legal process to obtain a grant of probate, the process of selling will then begin in earnest.
Usually, the deceased’s home will be priced to sell and again using the expertise of local estate agents or online estate agents will prove useful because they will have experience of selling properties in probate previously and will have lists of potential buyers who may be interested.
Probate house sale
For those who are thinking of buying a house in probate, there’s the real potential of bagging a bargain.
However, this is no excuse to avoid carrying out due diligence to avoid any potential surprises and it’s also a good reason as to why you should invest in quality conveyancing solicitors.
You also need to appreciate that you will be not buying the property from an executor who has not lived in the property, but will buy it from the deceased’s estate.
Essentially, this means that you need to do more homework than you would do usually since the executor may only have limited knowledge of the property concerned and they may even struggle to produce various documents that should otherwise be easy to obtain.
Also, anyone buying a house in probate should always get a full building survey carried out and work with professionals every step of the way.
Advice when selling a house in probate
As we have seen, selling a house in probate can be a stressful undertaking and it’s important that you follow the law.
Fortunately, estate agents and solicitors will have dealt with probate situations before and will have lots of experience and advice to help you.
And despite how keen some family members or loved ones are to sell up quickly, there is no quick route to sell a house in probate and you will need to be diligent to meet your legal obligations to ensure that you will be happy fulfilling your legal requirements and that everything has been completed carefully and correctly.
The Gazette, an official public record, offers a useful resource called ‘What executors need to know when selling the deceased’s home‘.