The death of a family member is never easy. In the midst of emotional angst from your loss you’re also tasked with addressing several tough decisions and seeing them through to completion. You may feel overwhelmed, confused, and at times, you may want to throw up your hands.
This article addresses one of the bigger decisions and associated tasks – what to do with any property, specifically, a home after the death of a loved one?
Transfer of Real Estate
When a person dies without a will the real estate will pass to the most direct heirs; if a will is involved, it will pass to the beneficiaries under the will. In most cases, the children do not need a court or executor to transfer the property to them as it passes to them naturally. This, of course, may create the first hurdle if the executor of the estate has been charged with selling the property upon death and distributing the proceeds of the sale. For example, if the heirs of the deceased had two children, without a will, the property would naturally pass to both children. In this instance, both children would need to approve the sale of the property as both now own the property – but if one child was named the executor of the will and has been authorized to sell the property and distribute the proceeds, only the executor has the authority and responsibility to sell. So, all this naturally raises the question, who is authorized to sell/transfer the home?
Debt & Bills
The executor of the estate, using funds of the estate, is responsible to settle debts and pay the bills after the death. Do not pay the deceased debts using your personal funds – there is no obligation or guarantee that you will be reimbursed by the estate especially if the estate is insolvent. In fact, if the estate has greater liabilities than assets, you must pay the debts based on the priority outlined for your state or you may find yourself personally liable for debts paid outside of that priority list.
Be sure the estate continues paying any mortgage payments, utilities, pool services, landscaper service until the home is sold – inversely, remember to cancel services not needed in an unoccupied home, services such as internet, television, telephone, water delivery service, etc. – and it’s also helpful to forward the mail to yourself.
This is an occasion when it’s extremely helpful if you already know where important documents are kept – both at home and safe deposit boxes. You’ll want to locate the will, investment documents, insurance documents, homeowner documents, vehicle titles, bank account documentation, receipts of bills, and bills that must be paid again, (do not pay them from your personal funds).
Listing the Home for Market
You’ll want to enlist the assistance a local REALTOR® early in this process. They will help you understand the market and provide professional advice in preparing the home for sale. It is especially important to rely on the advice of a REALTOR® if this is a home with strong sentimental attachments. It isn’t uncommon for emotional attachments to impede the removal of furniture, wallpaper, paint, fixtures, etc., and while these tasks may not be necessary for sale, not listening to the advice of your REALTOR® may adversely impact the resale value of the home and dramatically increase time on the market.