How to sell a property in probate

If you’ve been left a property through someone’s will, it can be a difficult time for all involved. Most people may want to sell the house quickly for emotional reasons or even to prevent high maintenance costs. However, selling a probate property is a little more complicated than a regular sale. Executors lacking experience in handling probate often underestimate how much time and work this responsibility can require.

But don’t panic! Demand for all kinds of property is increasing and with roughly 1 in 10 properties on the UK market reportedly undergoing probate, they are an increasingly familiar option to prospective home buyers.

Here at Guardcover, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about selling a property in probate.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal and financial process involved in dealing with property, money and assets of a person who has died. Before the next of kin or Executor named in the Will can claim, transfer, sell or distribute any of the deceased’s assets they may have to apply for probate.

When applying for probate, a Grant of Representation or Grant of Probate is an official document that is usually issued to the Executors of a Will or the closest family members if there is no Will, confirming their authority to administer the Estate of someone who has passed away. The process includes the legal authority to enter into and sign contracts on behalf of the Estate; such as the contract to sell a house.

Probate property

If there is a property in the Estate, it won’t stop you from putting the property onto the market, but the Grant of Representation or Probate will be needed to complete the sale. As part of the Estate administration process you’ll need to get the property valued as it forms part of the Estate. The Estate value is needed to calculate whether there is Inheritance Tax to pay, and for when you’re completing the Probate application. It is recommended that you obtain two or three estate agent valuations, these should reflect the value of the property as at the date the owner died, rather than actual selling price.

Once you’ve received an offer on the probate property, you can exchange contracts if you’re an Executor in the Will, but the property sale cannot complete until the Grant of Probate has been provided to your solicitor.

The person or company named on the Grant of Probate is under an obligation to sell the probate property for the open market value. Therefore, if the property is sold for less than the full market price a beneficiary can look to the person named on the Grant for the difference in value.

How long does it take to get the Grant of Probate?

While there is nothing to prevent executors from instructing agents to market the property, or even accepting an offer on it, contracts can’t be exchanged until the grant has been obtained. The estate agent and the potential buyers must be given a realistic timescale for obtaining the grant at the outset.

If the executors have accepted an offer on the property soon after the deceased’s death and before applying for the grant, the sale price can be given as the property value in the return of estate information form, or IHT account.

The executors must also be aware that the deceased’s property will need to be cleared of all its contents before the property is sold and again – something that can be quite time consuming to achieve.

CircumstancesTime taken
Non-taxable estate (no Inheritance Tax due) Around 6 weeks
Taxable estate (Inheritance Tax is due)Around 12 weeks
Urgent situations (e.g. for court cases)As little as 2 weeks

What documents will I need for probate?

These are some documents you will need to give your solicitor for working out the value of the estate in order to apply for Grant of Probate. These may be found in the deceased’s files or you or your solicitor will have to request them from the various organisations. These include:

  • Original will
  • Death certificate
  • NI number of deceased
  • ID (passport / driving licence)
  • Utility bills and details of outstanding debts
  • Bank statements / account
  • Credit card statements
  • Property deeds
  • Mortgage information
  • Details of any shares and savings
  • Details of any pensions received / due
  • Funeral expenses

What extra costs should I be aware of?

If you’re not doing it yourself, you’ll have to pay to have the house cleaned before selling, and if it’s left unoccupied for more than 30 days, you will need to pay for unoccupied property insurance.

You’ll also need to factor in maintenance costs, particularly in winter when the house will need to be heated regularly to avoid damp. Another cost to think about is valuations. To get the Inheritance Tax correct on your property, you’ll want to commission a minimum of three independent valuations.

Proceed with caution

It is sometimes the case that there are third party interests in the property which the beneficiaries are not aware of. This can be a mortgage, equity release charges or another person is actually on the property title and entitled to the whole of the property regardless of what the Will or Intestacy Rules state.

Be careful when clearing out the contents of a probate property (even the garden shed!), as it’s quite common for unregistered title deeds to be thrown out with other items but the deeds are vital to proving the property’s ownership. If in doubt with any documents keep them safe. Should there be no evidence of ownership the Estate may end up paying a solicitor or conveyancer to re-constitute to the title which can be a timely and costly process.

You may also wish to consider the property’s insurance; most insurance policies contain a clause relating to what happens when the property is left unoccupied for a specific term. You should make sure the property is secure and contact the insurance provider to update them on the situation and discuss the options available.