If you are named as an executor in someone’s will, you have a lot of duties and responsibilities placed upon you.
It will fall to you to gather in and value the assets of the estate, pay off any debts and liabilities, calculate and pay any inheritance tax (IHT) that is due – and distribute the estate in accordance with the will.
In addition, unless the beneficiaries named in the will wish to have the deceased’s property transferred into their names, you as the executor will need to sell it.
Selling property as an executor is slightly different from the usual process, so how should you go about it to ensure things run as smoothly as possible?
1. Obtain a Grant of Probate
If the deceased owned property in the sole name, when selling property as an executor, you will need to get what is known as a ‘Grant of Probate’.
This is a legal document issued by the court which confirms the validity of the will and names the executor who has the legal authority to deal with the deceased’s assets.
This includes the legal authority to enter into and sign contracts on behalf of the estate, such as the contract to sell a house.
As an executor, you need to be aware that obtaining a Grant of Probate can take potentially 12 weeks or more, so bear this in mind when looking to sell a property.
2. Get the property valued
As part of the process of applying for the Grant of Probate, you will need to get a valuation for the deceased’s property – or properties.
This should reflect the value of the property at the date the owner died, rather than the actual selling price.
You can do this via a surveyor, or via an estate agent.
3. Check the title and deeds
At this stage, you should also check the property’s title. You should be able to do this with the Land Registry.
You should then get a solicitor to check the title entries to see if there are any restrictions affecting the property – or defects in the title – which may need addressing before the property can be sold.
For example, there could be an outstanding mortgage you were not initially aware of even someone else owning a share in the property.
4. Can the executor sell property without all beneficiaries approving?
Unless the will states something to the contrary, there are no special provisions made for the beneficiaries to sign-off on a property sale.
However, it is always advisable to have open and clear communication from the outset, and a written agreement if necessary.
If the home is sold for less than a reasonable market value then disgruntled beneficiaries do have the option to sue to executor, adding additional stress to an already tricky situation.
5. What are your options for selling property as an executor?
Put it on the market with a traditional estate agent
When you get the property valued as part of the applying for Grant of Probate, you can talk to the estate agent about putting the property on the market.
You should be able to get a fair price for the property, and especially if you’re not in a hurry to sell.
You will have to deal with the property-selling process, including the to-ing and fro-ing between solicitors and estate agents, yourself. This can be stressful and time-consuming.
Use a quick house sale company
In recent years, there’s been an influx of so-called ‘quick house sale’ companies which claim to sell your home fast. They do this by buying the property directly or finding a third party buyer very quickly.
– The property being sold fast can be an appealing option when you’re trying to dispose of a deceased’s home.
– Firms may pay solicitor and search fees, meaning you don’t have to worry about these costs.
– You get paid in cash.
– These firms usually buy at a discounted rate, which could be as much as 25%.
– There is the risk of the price being reduced at the last minute.
– Fee structures are not always transparent.
– The quick house sale market isn’t regulated, so you aren’t protected when selling a property to one of these companies.
Tips when using a quick house sale company
Make sure you obtain a valuation from two or three estate agents, so you can work out whether you are getting a fair price form the quick house sale company.
Read your agreement carefully so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Don’t feel pressured into using a legal representative the firm recommends. Find you own solicitor.
6. Obligation to sell for the open market value
Irrespective of which route you choose to sell the property, as an executor, you are under an obligation to sell for the open market value.
If you sell for less than this, a beneficiary can look to you for the difference in value. Bear this in mind before accepting a low offer in a bid to shift the property quickly.
7. Be realistic about timescales
While there is nothing to stop you putting the property on the market and accepting an offer before the Grant of Probate is issued, the Grant must be in place in order to exchange contracts.
It’s important to give estate agents and potential buyers a realistic timescale from the outset.
8. How easy is it to sell a probate property?
While you might be worried about trying to sell a probate property, the good news is, given the quantity on the market, buyers are familiar with the concept and won’t be put off.
In fact, you may find a probate property is relatively easy to sell, as buyers may be attracted by slightly more affordable prices, being chain-free and the fact the property may offer a renovation opportunity.
9. Check the property is insured
Another task you need to undertake as the executor is ensuring the property is properly insured.
Insurers can decide not to pay out on claims if the policy is still in the name of the person who has died, so call the insurer and ask them to amend the name.
You should also inform the insurer if the house is now vacant, as most home insurance policies will not cover a property unoccupied for more than 30 days. You may need to pay an extra premium for additional cover.
Equally, the insurer may not insure the contents once the homeowner has died because there’s a higher burglary risk. You may have to remove any valuables from the house. To avoid arguments and upset, talk to family members and beneficiaries before doing this.
10. Clear the property
As an executor, you need to remember that you must clear the deceased’s property of all their belongings before it is sold.
This can be quite a long process, especially if it’s a childhood home which contains a lot of memories, so be sure to leave enough time for this.
11. What will it cost?
When selling a probate property, you should not find yourself faced with any major legal costs than for the sale of a ‘normal’ property.
While you may face some modest additional costs, such as clearance of the house prior to selling, or additional insurance cost for a property left unoccupied for more than 30 days, these should not be excessive.
That said, you might also incur costs if, say, the house needs to be kept heated during the winter to avoid it getting damp, or if you decide to employ a gardener in the summer to keep the lawns mown and the garden tidy.
Equally, if you are struggling to sell in a slow property market, you may want to spend money on improving a property before selling.
As an executor, you are entitled to get these improvements carried out within reason, but it is advisable to inform the beneficiaries before spending any of the estate’s money
So that concludes this episode of Ask the Estate Agent Podcast. You can contact us anytime using the links below:
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