A young couple popped by the other day looking quite distraught. They had signed an agreement with a little old lady to purchase her house. All was looking good and they were ready complete when they learned she passed away unexpectedly.
“Can we still buy our house,” they asked. “We are itching to get in and start fixing it up!” We assured them they had a valid contract that the estate was bound to complete.
However, there would definitely be a delay while the executor waited for their grant of probate allowing them to sign the papers. This could take weeks or even months depending on whether there was a will and how complicated this was.
What If You Are an Executor Caught in This Bind
An executor is responsible for winding up a deceased estate by following what is in the late person’s will. If there is no legal will, then they must distribute the assets according to the laws of succession.
Whatever the case, you cannot simply jump in and get on with it. The government holds all the keys until they give you permission by issuing a grant of probate. In essence, this is a certificate confirming that:
# The will is true and valid
# the executor may implement it
Where there is no will – or at least no legal will in evidence – then the court will issue letters of administration instead. These confirm the executor may distribute the proceeds according to the laws of succession. In the case of our young couple this means they may go ahead and complete the sale.
However, Unfortunately Getting Probates Take Time
Do not underestimate the hassle and time obtaining a probate takes. Everything must be ‘just so’ in terms of the paperwork especially since the government computerized, and out-sourced the process. This is not a good opportunity to attempt a DIY. Even the best solicitor may take months.
# Step 1: Value the Property
You can’t sell the property for any amount you consider fair. An executor would need to get a proper valuation even in the case of the young couple. If the agreed price was less that the average of three estate agent valuations – or a surveyor’s appraisal – then that could take at least another article to explain.
# Step 2: Check the Title or Obtain the Deeds
You also have to prove the property actually belongs to the estate. If you are lucky, the deceased registered their rights with the land office. Unfortunately, this may be not be the case out in the countryside or in a small village.
In the latter case you have to find the paper title deeds by visiting the deceased’s bank, or turning their house upside down. We will be following up with a separate article about the lack of title soon.
# Step 3: Have a Solicitor Check for Restrictions and Defects
And finally, do be careful about ‘rubber stamping’ the sale of a property that has restrictions you should have looked for. Remember, as executor you may be liable for compensation where you were wilfully negligent.
However, if everything checks out and the solicitor is happy, you may be able to agree to a sale within reasonable timescales. Bear in mind the buyer will expect vacant occupation. This means you have to clear the clutter, and any hoards you discover when you enter the basement.