Selling a House

Selling a House in Probate: What You Need to Know

People work for decades to amass wealth and property. Yet, each year, around 3.5 million American die.

At that point, all their wealth and property become a matter of wills, living trusts, and the probate process. All of that comes with expenses that the executor of the estate must manage.

Of course, one question that an executor may face is whether selling a house in probate is permissible. If you’re facing such a problem or just sorting out your will, keep reading to understand what can happen with probate property.

Selling a House in Probate

What Is Probate?

Anytime someone dies with a will, the court system does a probate process. In basic terms, the process exists so that the court will recognize the will as valid.

Among other things, the process exists to appoint or confirm an executor for the estate. The court also uses the process to provide some oversight for the distribution of estate assets, such as money, personal property, and real estate.

Is Selling a House in Probate Allowed?

Many people may wonder if it’s possible to sell a house in probate. The answer to that question is: sometimes. There are several rules around selling probate property.

The first big rule is that the only person who can sell probate property is the executor. So, for example, if someone dies, their kids can’t sell off the house while the will remains in probate.

As a general rule, executors only sell off property like real estate to pay probate costs or debts of the estate. A common cost during probate is legal fees. The estate will typically also face court costs.

If there are profits after the executor pays off any legal fees or outstanding debts, the money doesn’t go straight to the beneficiaries. It will stay with the estate until the executor distributes assets.

The executor also, typically, cannot sell off property that is designated for someone in the will.

Formal vs Informal Probate

It’s also important to understand that there are different kinds of probate in some states. In certain states, there is a formal probate process and an informal probate process.

In a formal probate process, the court plays a very active role in the process. In essence, they must sign off on just about every major decision that happens. This can involve a number of formal hearings before the court.

In an informal probate process, the court is hands-off, and the whole thing happens as a kind of administrative process. This cuts down on the hearings and court costs.

Informal probate works best with simple wills covering comparatively small estates. These estates tend to see fewer legal challenges.

For large estates and complex wills, a formal probate process typically works best because it helps manage the legal issues.

Appraisal

If an executor decides to sell a property, they can’t just put it right onto the market. They must get a formal appraisal of the property.

Some executors will simply hire an appraiser. Since most executors have limited real estate experience, most will look for a realtor first.

Ideally, you’ll find a realtor with experience selling probate properties. Either way, a realtor can usually point you toward a good appraiser.

Marketing

Once you get the appraisal and court approval, you can put the house on the market. The court may impose a number of requirements on you in that regard. For example, they may require that you advertise the property in local publications.

Timeframe

Are you wondering, “How long does an executor have to sell a house?” There is good news on that front. Since the probate process has no fixed timeframe, the executor isn’t on a clock to sell the property.

Offers and Bids

Unlike a regular property on the market, the executor cannot simply take any offer that comes along. The law typically dictates a minimum acceptable amount. 90 percent of the appraised value is very common.

These offers must also come with a minimum deposit amount, such as 10 percent. State laws will determine the exact rules that you must follow. That makes it prudent to hire an attorney to help with the sale.

Bids

Even if you get an offer on the property that meets all the basic requirements, that doesn’t make it a done deal. In many states, the court will have a hearing regarding the offer.

During that hearing, the court may open the floor to accept overbids. These are essentially bids from interested parties that are higher than the offer.

Again, there are often rules about these bids. For example, they must often be a certain percentage higher than the offer. If the court gets an acceptable bid, the property goes to the bidder.

The complexities of this process often make selling probate property a measure of last resort. Many buyers don’t like the idea of securing financing and putting down a deposit when they can lose the property in the final hour.

Alternatives

While there are no real alternatives to the requirements and process, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get offers or bids. If that happens, you’ll want some kind of alternative in place.

One possibility you can consider is a company that offers cash for your house. You will need to have a conversation with the company. They must also meet the court’s minimum payment requirements.

The upside is that you know that these businesses have the finances to actually pay for the property. That isn’t always the case with people who make offers or bids on the property.

Selling a House in Probate and You

Selling a house in probate is possible. It’s also complicated.

Selling probate real estate comes with a lot of red tape. There are rules about how much you can sell it for, bidding after an offer, and even advertising.

If you are going to try to sell probate property, it’s a good idea to find a realtor and a lawyer who are familiar with probate real estate sales.

Looking for more real estate tips? Check out some more posts in our Real Estate section.

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