When a loved one passes, the last thing on your mind is selling their home and belongings. However, if you are the executor, you are responsible for handling the estate — all of the person’s property — after their death.
Selling a house during probate takes as long as an average house takes to sell — if there are no complications with the estate. According to the Federal Reserve, homes in the U.S. are on the market for an average of 32 days.
But when you’re selling a home after the owner’s death, this timeline may be complicated by a legal process known as probate. The executor has until the end of probate to sell the house — which could be a couple of months or even a year, depending on whether or not beneficiaries are contesting the will.
Whether you’re coordinating these legal processes from afar, stressed by unfamiliar rules and regulations, or simply coping with grief, a qualified real estate agent can help you navigate the process of selling a loved one’s property.
How Long Does an Executor Have to Sell a House?
An executor has to sell the house before the end of probate, which can be anywhere between two months and one year, depending on a few factors.
- The status of the estate (are people contesting the will?)
- The state probate laws where the decedent lived
- Whether or not the house is located in a different state than the state in which the decedent lived (like if it was a second home or investment property)
Here are the laws so you can see for yourself how executors can handle the sale of a house in your area:
What Is an Executor?
An executor (also called a personal representative) is the legal title given to someone appointed to handle a deceased person’s estate. The estate includes assets left behind after death, including the house, furniture, cars, jewelry, family heirlooms, and more.
If the last will and testament names you as the executor, it will dictate how you should manage the belongings. It might direct you to divvy up items to different family members or sell certain assets and donate the money to charity.
If there isn’t a will, you’ll distribute the estate through probate according to a process called intestate succession. Intestate is a legal term for a person who died without making a will, so intestate succession means that when a will doesn’t exist, you transfer the assets according to the laws of the state the deceased person was a resident of.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a common legal procedure for transferring a deceased person’s assets to beneficiaries — a person or entity that inherits property from a person after they pass away. Beneficiaries could be family members, friends, charities, or other organizations.
Many of these assets go through probate, but there are some exceptions. For example, if a house has more than one person’s name on the deed with “full rights of survivorship,” the title automatically passes to the remaining living owners and does not go through probate.
Life insurance also goes directly to the beneficiaries designated in the policy without going through probate.
During probate, executors disburse items according to the deceased person’s will or the intestate laws of the state — but you shouldn’t do it alone. Consult a legal professional, preferably an attorney specializing in probate and estate law, for help with complex probate laws.
When Can an Executor Sell the House?
An executor can sell the house as soon as it is transferred into their legal possession.
Your job as executor is to protect estate assets during probate. So, you don’t want to wait too long to sell the house after the person dies. Homes that sit empty are at risk of theft, vandalism, deterioration, weather damage, and damaged pipes.
But here’s the thing: You can’t simply decide to sell the property when someone dies. It’s a common misconception — just because the will says you’re the executor doesn’t mean you can act right away. You must submit the will to probate court, and the court must issue an order or give you “letters of authority” before you can sell the property.
Once you get the green light from the court and you’re officially appointed executor, probate has begun, and you can start preparing the home to sell.
A good first step is to contact the homeowner’s insurance company, but make sure to do it quickly. Some insurance policies won’t cover claims if the house sits vacant for too long — unless you add vacant house coverage to the policy.
You must also know who the beneficiaries of the home are. For example, suppose you’re selling a house in probate in Alabama. If the will gives the property to three beneficiaries, all three must agree to sell the house before you can list it for sale.
If there is no will, follow the state’s intestate laws to determine the legal beneficiaries before you proceed with the sale.
Does an Executor Have to Sell the House?
An executor doesn’t have to sell the house. You have a few options when it comes to estate property. You could even sell the property to yourself.
Just remember the property doesn’t belong to you, and you must follow the laws of the state. You also have a fiduciary duty to manage the assets, so you have to act with honesty, integrity, good faith, fairness, and loyalty.
A beneficiary can stop the sale of a property, so it’s crucial that you follow probate procedure, act in good faith, and get beneficiary approval before selling the house.
Need Help Selling a House as an Executor?
Being an executor isn’t easy — probate laws are complex, and you may face legal or personal repercussions for your actions or inactions, or if anything goes wrong.
Besides working with an experienced probate and estate attorney, it helps to have a real estate agent on your side to help you price, list, and sell your property quickly when the time comes.
Frequently Asked Questions about Selling a House as an Executor
Do all beneficiaries have to agree to sell the property?
Yes. All beneficiaries are required to agree to sell the property. Negotiations can lengthen the probate period, taking longer to sell the property. It must be a unanimous decision. Learn more.
How long does it take to sell a house in probate?
Selling a house during probate takes as long as an average house takes to sell — if there are no complications with the estate. The average house in the U.S. takes an average of 32 days, according to the Federal Reserve. Learn more.