Being appointed an executor of a deceased person will come with a significant amount of responsibility and expectations. Among the many responsibilities of executors is selling the deceased person’s house and distributing the proceeds fairly and accordingly. Unfortunately, selling a house in such circumstances isn’t as simple as listing the house for sale. Several issues surround the sale, including the court processes and timelines for executors to complete the sale.
What Is an Executor?
An executor or personal representative is a legal name given to a family member or any other person appointed to handle the properties of a deceased person. The properties include all deceased’s assets, be it houses, cars, furniture, jewelry, and more. The executor should carry out the deceased person’s will according to the law.
Occasionally, the executor might also be a beneficiary of the estate, which adds more pressure. However, this shouldn’t create a conflict of interest. While the roles of executors vary from one state to another, general roles include:
- Understanding the deceased person’s will
- Taking full control of the estate
- Finding buyers for properties
- Receiving proceeds from property sale
- Distributing earnings to beneficiaries
- Settling pending debts and taxes
An executor’s responsibilities require a deep understanding of the probate process. Understanding probate laws as an estate executor means you should know the probate laws of different states. This is especially important if the deceased persons’ properties are spread across different states. You should consult a probate attorney if you aren’t familiar with these laws.
Basics of Probate Timelines
As mentioned, probate laws vary by state, meaning each state has different timelines. A simple estate with easily visible assets can be sold within six to eight months. Complicated estates take three or more years to be fully settled. Some steps of the probate process have fixed timelines that compel executors to complete them within specific dates. Below are the timelines for basic probate processes:
- Filing Will for Probate
The first step of the probate process is submitting the deceased person’s will to the probate court. The executor can only act in their official capacity after submitting the decedents’ will and getting the court’s approval. The timelines for this process vary from one state to another. While states like Florida and Oregon don’t have stated time limits for executors to submit wills, others, like Texas, have a four-year deadline.
- Taking Inventory
The other important part of the probate process is taking inventory of the estate’s assets. The executor can start collecting and valuing the decedents’ assets after receiving authority from the probate court. Taking inventory of the estate is important for various reasons. First, it helps determine if the estate is subject to taxes. Taking inventory also helps determine if the estate remains insolvent if the debts exceed estate assets.
Some states set specific deadlines for executors to take an inventory of the estate. For instance, Texas and Maryland require that executors take inventory of the estate within three months after the decedent’s passing. Deadlines in other states vary case by case. Executors should find specific state timelines.
- Paying Taxes and Debts
Debts associated with the estate or properties of the deceased are important and can affect the length of the probate process. Debt affects the timelines because creditors of the estate need time to familiarize themselves with the process and make claims. Nonetheless, some states have specific timelines allowed for creditors to make claims. For instance, creditors in Illinois should submit their claims within six months.
The estate’s tax burden can also lengthen the probate process, especially if the properties are subject to estate taxes. If the estates are in different states, you should follow different probate processes, which delays the distribution of assets to beneficiaries.
The Process of Selling a House as an Executor
Executors should follow the following steps when selling a house:
- Assume control of the property – The first step is taking control of the house. Executors get control by filing a will and getting approval from the probate court. Typically, executors should do this within 30 days of receiving the decedent’s will. Failing to file the will within this period hinders your chances of assuming control. However, filing the will in a probate court isn’t always mandatory. If you are the sole beneficiary of the house, you can sell the property while still in probate.
- Get the property valued – The house should be valued before listing for sale. Hiring professional valuers helps determine the accurate selling price. The actual value of the house can fluctuate due to market conditions, condition of the property, and other real estate determinants.
- Choose the best way to sell the house – Being the executor of the estate gives you a fiduciary to the estate. You shouldn’t doubt whether you should list the house. You should find the best option for selling the home and for a profit.
- Submit a signed contract to the probate court – If you’ve found a potential buyer for your home, you should get a signed contract of the sales agreement and submit it to the probate court. You should also submit copies of the buyers’ offer to get approval from the probate court to close the sale. If the house was left to multiple beneficiaries, you should also get their approval for the sale. This involves signing a waiver that they are satisfied with the offered price.
- Obtain the court approval and close the sale – This step essentially involves waiting for the probate court to approve the sale. Executors can complete the sale after receiving approval from the court. You should sign an executor’s deed to close the sale. If multiple beneficiaries are involved, you should also get their signatures.
- Receive and distribute proceeds – You should open a separate bank account for the house after listing your house for sale. The proceeds from property sales should be distributed accordingly. Begin by paying creditors and outstanding dues before distributing them to beneficiaries.
Assuming responsibility for a decedent’s assets and property is trying, emotional, and stressful. The probate process differs for every estate, and probate laws vary. If you aren’t familiar with the probate process, you should consult a legal professional to ease the process.