Working with an Estate

If you are in the real estate business long enough, you will represent an estate or a client who's spouse has passed away.  While there are many issues that can arise with estates and the death of someone on title, it does not have to be a scary transaction.  The key is to know what to ask, and to ask early.  If you don't you could be listing a house with someone who doesn't even have the power to hire you. 

If you represent a seller who's spouse has died, you should ask for a copy of the deed.  (Your should actually always ask for a copy of the deed.) If they held title as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship, then the only thing your client will need to bring to closing is a copy of the death certificate.  If they don't have a copy, they will need to order one from the funeral home, or vital statistics.  The earlier they order this, the better.  (This is true for any property where one of the owner's has died.)  

If they did not acquire the deed in joint survivorship, they might have to acquire the decedent's interest through probate.  It is important to know what has to be done early.  Always ask an attorney to look at the deed to make sure there are no surprises right before closing. 

Please do not try to interpret a deed on your own.  If you send it to us we will be happy to look at this and determine how the seller holds title. 

If you represent an estate, please always ask if the representative has opened probate.  Probate is  the court process wherein the estate of a decedent is administered, regardless of whether or not their is a will.  If the estate has not been opened in probate court, no one has the right to sell the property.  The Court must appoint an executor or administrator for the estate. Only that person has the right to sign documents for the estate.   Always get an attorney involved when you list a property for an estate.  In some instances you will need to get a court order to sell, and then wait 30 days to close.  It is crucial to know what needs to be done to make sure all parties are on board.

Working with estates and properties where an owner has passed away can seem like a daunting task.  It doesn't have to be.  Get an attorney involved early and we can make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Please remember that this article should not be used as legal advice.  You should always contact an attorney for you and your client's specific needs.