What happens to a property after the owner dies? Can it be sold immediately?
Registered or Unregistered
One of the first things to determine is whether the property is registered or unregistered. If registered, the information on owners, lenders and charges can be found by completing a simple search with the Land Registry. If it is unregistered, you will need to find the title deeds. These may be stored with a local solicitor or with the bank/building society, but they could also be laid amongst paperwork in the deceased’s home so be careful when clearing out. All properties bought or mortgaged since 1990 must be registered. However, if the property was bought pre-1990 and has not been re-mortgaged since, it may still be unregistered.
A Grant of Probate is required to sell a property that was owned solely by the deceased. This is a legal document which grants the executors/representatives of the estate the authority to handle the deceased’s assets. This includes the legal right to sign contracts on behalf of the estate, including the contract required to sell a house.
The property can be put up for sale before the Grant of Probate has been released: viewings can take place and offers can even be considered. However, the Grant must be in place before exchange of contracts and transfer of the property’s title with the Land Registry.
The executor/ representative is required to act in the best interest of the estate and should therefore sell the property at market value. It is important that professional valuations are sought to ensure the house is marketed at the right price. It is advisable to obtain these valuations (based on the value on the date of death) before the Grant of Probate is applied for to get an accurate value of the entire estate and to determine whether inheritance tax is owed.
Updates, Renovations and Liability
In some instances, a property may require updating before it is ready for sale and this is something that should be considered by the representatives- e.g. is it proportionate to spend ‘x’ on renovations to potentially increase sale value? Those named on the Grant are liable for the full value of the estate. If they do not carry out their duties correctly, the beneficiaries could come to them for any money or assets they should have inherited. This can apply in cases where properties are sold under market value.
One final point about liability is that the house should be insured whilst this process is ongoing. We often take it for granted that our bills are paid via direct debits but if that account is frozen (as is the case after someone dies) and the bills stop getting paid, the uninsured home is at risk- as are the executors/representatives!
For more information on dealing with the affairs of a loved one after they have passed away, call us on 01642 968707.