You may be acting as the Executor of a deceased person’s Will, in which case you will be responsible for winding up the deceased’s estate and carrying out the terms of their Will. If the estate includes a property, then it will be your responsibility to sell the property unless the beneficiaries under the Will wish to have it transferred into their names.
It is important to remember that, as Executor, if you have never lived in the property, then your knowledge of the property may be very limited. Therefore, this should be reflected in any answers to enquiries which a purchaser’s solicitor might raise. Whilst it is your duty to find out as much information about the property as possible, you are not expected to know specific details about it if you have not lived there and therefore your answers should reflect that.
As Executor, you have a particular duty to ensure that you are selling the property for the best possible price, for the benefit of the estate which you are representing. You must not, for example, sell the property at an undervalue to a member of your family, or to one of the beneficiaries, or indeed to yourself. In addition, care needs to be taken where a property is to be sold to an Executor or a beneficiary.
The net proceeds of sale must be paid to an account in the name of all of the Executors, and all of the Executors need to sign the ultimate transfer document.
You should bear the following points in mind to ensure that the sale process is as smooth as possible.
If the deceased owned the property in his or her sole name, a grant of probate will be required to enable you to sell or transfer the property. A grant of probate is a form of certificate issued by the court that confirms the validity of the will and gives the Executors authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.
You should not underestimate timescales for obtaining the grant, particularly if tax is payable. Even in a straightforward estate, it can take four to six months to obtain the grant.
As part of the application process for the grant of probate, you will need to complete a financial account detailing the deceased’s assets and liabilities, with date of death balances or valuations. You should obtain two or three estate agents’ valuations and take the average as the value of the property, or pay a surveyor to undertake a full professional valuation.
You should also, at this stage, check the title to the property. If the property is registered with the Land Registry, this should be a relatively straightforward matter of downloading a copy of the title entries and plan, checking that the property is in the deceased’s name, and that the plan shows the full extent of the property.
However, the property may not be registered, particularly if it is in a rural location and the deceased had owned it for a number of years. In this case, you will need to locate the paper title deeds, which may be held in safe custody by the deceased’s solicitor or bank, or they may be kept with the deceased’s papers at home.
Once located, you should ask a solicitor to check the title entries and plan, or the paper title deeds, in case there are restrictions affecting the property, or defects in the title, which may need to be dealt with before the property can be sold. It is not unknown to find that the property was never transferred to the deceased on the death of their spouse – and this is not the sort of thing to find out after a sale of the property has been negotiated.
When valuing the property, the estate agent may suggest that they have a potential buyer already, or that the property should be placed on the market immediately. In most cases, this is not advisable, as it is difficult to manage expectations on timescales before probate has been obtained, and you cannot exchange contracts until the grant has issued in any event.
You must also be aware that the deceased’s property will need to be completely cleared of all its contents before the property is sold. Again, this is something that can be quite time‑consuming to achieve.
This article is intended to give a brief overview of the points to consider when selling the deceased’s property, rather than cover all aspects of the procedures involved. Executors should take legal advice on the title to the property before placing the property on the market.
Get in Touch
At Barrett & Co, we can help you with all aspects of your role as Executor, including the sale of the deceased’s property. If you would like to discuss your role as Executor with one of our specialists please contact Jane Whitfield on 0118 958 9711 or [email protected] and she would be glad to assist you.
We will be publishing shortly a separate article covering the tax aspects of selling a property as Executor.