Selling a loved one’s real estate is often part of settling their affairs after their death. Preparing to sell a property for a deceased relative or friend can seem overwhelming, but there are a clear set of steps that can help organize the process.
Step One: Find the Will
If you already have the original copy of the will, perfect! If not, you will need to find the will in order to proceed. Real property that is covered under an existing will is called Testate Estate. In the event that you cannot find a will—or the deceased never had one—the property will be referred to as an Intestate Estate. With an Intestate Estate, the probate court will need to determine how to best distribute the property or who the proceeds of the sale will go to.
Step Two: Get Letters of Administration
If you have a will in hand, you will need to submit the will to the Probate Court in the town the property is located in. They will issue Letters of Administration and a Short Certificate. This documentation will allow the listed Executor of the will the power to move forward with selling the property, from listing the property to negotiating the contract and signing closing documents.
Step Three: Open a Bank Account
Once the property is sold, the money from the sale will need to be divided amongst the inheritors of the estate. This will require you or the executor to open a bank account specific to the estate. When the proceeds of the sale are deposited into the estate bank account, there will be a final accounting along with tax returns prepared. The judge presiding over the settling of the estate will need to approve the final accounting before the funds are divided amongst the inheritors.
Step Four: Closing Without Probate
In the event that you cannot find the will and the estate is a Testate Estate, you can still sell the property. The potential heirs of the estate will need to prepare an Affidavit of Heirship that lists all of the heirs of the deceased. This list as well as the official Death Certificate will need to be submitted to the title company of the property. The title company will perform a risk assessment to determine if you will be allowed to proceed with closing. If the title company allows you to proceed, all of the heirs listed in the Affidavit of Heirship will need to sign the closing documents. If even one heir does not sign the closing documents, you will not be able to close under this method. In this case, you would need to file a petition to begin probate and allow the court to determine what happens to the property.
Step Five: Talk to an Attorney
Your best bet for a smooth and stress-free process is to work closely with an experienced estate attorney. It can be hard to get family members on the same page as well as get all the documentation together. An estate planning attorney can prepare the documents and take some of the weight of the situation off the back of the executor. If the decedent had an estate planning attorney set up their will, it makes sense to work with him or her; in the case of that attorney retiring or not being as helpful as you'd like, reach out to Veitengruber Law. We're happy to help you through this challenging time.