Managing a parent’s death can be difficult, especially if you also have to sell a house. Learn about the steps for selling a house after a parent passes away.
A parent passing away is one of the most difficult times in a child’s life, regardless of when it happens. Whether your parents were old or young, the emotional toll it may take on you could last longer than you expected.
But a parent’s passing has its challenges beyond the emotional fallout. They have belongings and assets you may need to manage and sort through when they die, including a home. If you’re handling the disposition of your parent’s home after they die, keep in mind that it’s not the same as a typical home sale. There are a few things you should be aware of if you’re selling a house after the death of a parent.
Selling an inherited house
If your parent passes away and leaves you their home, you may need to manage the transfer before selling it as long as there are details about the transfer.
“When a parent passes away, they could leave the home to their children by transfer-on-death designation in many states,” said Geoffrey Kunkler, a partner at Carlile Patchen & Murphy LLP in Columbus, Ohio. “If they do not do so, the property will likely be in their estate and subject to the jurisdiction of the probate court.”
Kunkler said a transfer can happen quickly as long as the paperwork is in order. And from there, you can sell it once it’s yours. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait for probate to play out.
“If [the] title has not been transferred out of the parent’s name, the child will not be able to sell it,” Kunkler said. “Depending on what the parent wrote in his or her last will and testament and the rules of the local probate court, there could be multiple steps to take before the child can sell the property.”
The probate process could delay your home sale. If you had plans to list the homes soon after your parent passes, you might have to wait a little longer. Make sure your parent’s will or trust has your inheritance clearly instructed so the process can move faster.
Selling an inherited house with siblings
The best way to settle potential family disputes is to make sure your parent’s will or trust specifically outlines their last wishes. Even then, you’ll need to discuss the next steps with your siblings if you’re planning to split costs and proceeds.
If you’re planning to sell your parent’s home with siblings, get answers to questions like:
- Who’s handling the sale of the home
- Who’s funding home expenses?
- How much is the house worth?
- How is the splitting of the proceeds happening? For instance, is it equal among siblings or is there a set percentage?
Emotions run high in families when a parent passes, and it’s normal to have disagreements about how assets should be handled. You can request a mediator, but if you don’t have a unified agreement, probate will determine who gets what for you.
Understanding the status of the house
It’s important to know the house’s status before going forward: probate, transfer on death deed and living trust.
“How a house is titled is critically important,” Kunkler said. “If it is in probate, it will go through the court process before it can be sold. If it is set up with a transfer on death deed, the title passes automatically when the decedent has passed, and all the beneficiary typically needs to do is file an affidavit and the death certificate before they can sell the home.”
A living trust is an easier way to transfer assets and property because it avoids the probate process.
“Often probate can be the slowest,” Kunkler said. “Property that is in a living trust will not go through probate and will instead be governed by the terms of the trust document.”
Because probate can be one of the biggest holdups in selling an inherited home, you’ll need to make space in your timeline for this. If your parents haven’t passed but are making end-of-life plans—like estate planning—a living trust might be a good alternative to a last will and testament. It might be a little bit of work now, but it will save you and your family potential problems once they pass.
Do you need a real estate agent to sell an inherited house?
Selling a regular home is already a difficult task, which is why real estate agents offer a big benefit. They can walk you through any hurdles you might face, especially because you’re selling an inherited house.
It’s usually not required to hire a real estate agent to sell an inherited house, but having one could mean the process goes smoothly. You might want to bring other experts on board, too.
“You may want to seek legal or tax advice in addition to professionals who could help assess the house and the real estate market,” Kunkler said. Consider an estate or probate attorney who has experience navigating the probate process and selling inherited properties.
You’re under no obligation to hire professionals, but going at it alone could delay the home sale. You’ll have to maintain the house while it’s in probate and getting toured. You’ll have to list the home , market it, handle viewings and negotiate with prospective buyers and their agents. All that and going through probate can make selling an inherited home feel like a full-time job. If you have the means, consider offloading some of that work to professionals who can help.
Dealing with the loss of a parent isn’t easy, and that emotional load might be even heavier when you’re tasked with selling their home. But there are some actions to take as soon as you can to avoid drawing out the process.
If your parents are still alive and able to, have them outline their specific plans in a living trust, which avoids probate. A transfer on death deed is also a good option, but you’ll need to make sure your state validates it before choosing that option. If those aren’t viable options in your situation, it’s better to have some form of will than nothing at all. Just know that it could take longer to sell an inherited house this way, especially if the title needs to get transferred out of the parent’s name.
The best thing you can do right now is have a concrete estate plan set up for your living parents. If your parents have already passed and you’re in the process of selling their home, you might need to have a great deal of patience and the help of some professionals to better get you through it.