If the property is held by joint tenants with survivorship, the interest of a deceased owner automatically gets transferred to the remaining surviving owners on presentation of a death certificate, so many of the problems here will not arise. The surviving joint tenant can normally sell the property immediately. When homes are in the name of a single person or are owned as tenants in common (meaning each person owns a specified share), a sale cannot be completed until probate has been granted, regardless of whether or not there is valid Will.
Some far-sighted owners have put their property into a lifetime trust and here the Trustees are in a position to deal with the property immediately – though there is no guarantee there will not be Inheritance Tax to pay as it will generally be included as an estate asset for tax purposes, so advice here is usually of a bespoke nature.
If the deceased owned property in their sole name, a grant of probate will be needed before the executors can sign the contract to sell or transfer the property. An executor cannot actually sell the property until probate has been granted, as before this they don’t have the authority to sign the sales contract. That doesn’t mean you can’t put the property on the market, but potential buyers may be put off if probate takes longer than one would hope. Or worse, it may turn out that the executor does not have the right to sell at all, perhaps through clauses in the Will.
If the property is already in Trust, the sale may be nothing to do with the executors of the Will. The Trustees will be in control of the property and deciding what to do with it. In most cases, the executor will still need to check the situation with a view to including the relevant proportion of the value of the Trust in the estate and completing the IHT forms which are needed where a trust exists. If this is the case, we would recommend that you may be better appointing a solicitor than trying to deal with the estate yourself.
Unless the Will says something to the contrary, or there are complications because a third party lives in the property, beneficiaries have no special rights. They do have the right to sue the executor if the house is sold for less than a reasonable market value, and to make life difficult for the executor, so an agreement is best. But if one beneficiary benefits more than they should – perhaps by paying less than full market value, executors can be in trouble again. Proceed with caution, and if you think arguments are likely, it may be time to hand the work over to a specialist solicitor to handle the complaints rather than damage relations by making yourself the bad one!
In addition to the above there are many potential pitfalls that could come to light when dealing with an estate but luckily many can be avoided by appointing a solicitor to work with you from the outset. At Wilkinson Grant & Co we work with a number of well-respected firms who are experienced in this field and work to agreed service levels to help Executors with all aspects of handling a deceased estate. It may be, of course, that you have your own preferred solicitor but in any event, here are some helpful tips to guide you through the selling process:
To download our full guide to Selling Probate or Inherited Property, click the button below