Selling A House In Probate
When someone dies, it falls to those left behind to finalise their affairs and administer their Estate. The process, which involves settling the Estate’s debts and liabilities and distributing the remaining assets between the beneficiaries, is known as probate. If the deceased person owned a property, the process often involves selling a house in probate.
When Do You Need Probate For A House Sale?
If the deceased owned their house jointly with someone else, what happens to it following their death depends on how ownership was shared. Couples usually own their homes as ‘joint tenants’, meaning that each owns the entire property with the other. When one partner dies, full ownership automatically passes to the surviving partner. In these cases, the Executors do not need to contemplate a probate house sale since the house does not form part of the deceased person’s Estate.
If, however, the deceased owned the house in their sole name, probate is generally required before the property can be sold. Executors must apply to the Court for a ‘Grant of Probate’, the legal document proving their entitlement to deal with the Estate. Whilst applying for the Grant is relatively straightforward, considerable preparatory work must be undertaken before you can proceed.
The Executors must determine the Estate’s approximate value by collating information relating to the deceased’s assets, including cash held in bank and building society accounts, pension pots and shareholdings. Any property owned by the deceased must be formally valued and the extent of the deceased’s debts and liabilities ascertained. In addition, the inheritance tax position must be addressed before the Grant of Probate will be issued.
If you need help preparing the Grant of Probate Application, speak to us. Our team of expert probate solicitors will provide as much assistance as you require to ease the burden of the legal implications of your bereavement.
What Does A Probate House Sale Involve?
A probate house sale proceeds in essentially the same way as any other. However, you cannot complete a probate house sale until you are in possession of the Grant of Probate. The length of time it takes for a Grant to be issued depends on various factors including the nature and complexity of the Estate, whether the Application can be made online or must be made on paper, and the Court’s availability. At the time of writing, the average time frame for a Grant of Probate to be issued is around 8 weeks for online Applications, and at least 16 weeks for those made on paper.
The process can be delayed by various factors including missing documentation, an incomplete or inaccurate Application or queries regarding the condition of the Will. Further, probate generally takes longer when inheritance tax is due on the Estate. In these cases, HMRC needs to issue a Certificate confirming that the tax position has been addressed, and at least some of the tax must usually be paid before the Court will issue a Grant of Probate.
There is nothing to prevent you from putting the deceased person’s house on the market before obtaining the Grant of Probate. However, since you cannot complete any sale until the Grant has been issued, Executors rarely get to the point of exchanging contracts since it is impossible to predict with any certainty when the Grant will be received.
Executors’ Duties When Selling A House In Probate
The role of Executor comes with strict legal duties to ensure you act in the best interests of the Estate at all times. To satisfy this duty when selling a house in probate, you must do all you can to obtain a fair market value. If you don’t, the beneficiaries can object to the sale and you may be forced to compensate them for any shortfall.
Achieving the best possible sale price involves taking steps to retain the property’s value. You need to check that the house is adequately insured, properly secure and visit it regularly if it is vacant. You must also consider whether any potential sale will expose the beneficiaries to a capital gains tax liability.
How We Can Assist With A Probate House Sale
We offer a comprehensive probate service. When the Estate administration requires selling a house in probate, our expert probate solicitors will act swiftly to collate the information and documentation needed to submit the probate Application and ensure the Grant is issued without unnecessary delay. Once you have obtained the Grant, we can assist in the administration of the Estate, ensuring the deceased’s wishes are carried out and advising on your legal duties as Executor. Our advice is clear, straightforward and delivered with the care and empathy appropriate in the circumstances.