We get this question quite often – can you sell your inherited property? The answer to this depends on many factors. First, you need to figure out if you can sell an inherited property. Here are a few steps for you to take to answer this, before you can decide if you need a probate lawyer or professional executor.
Check the deed to confirm you inherit
First, check the deed to see if the decedent actually owned the property. Some people stay in a home long after another relative has passed or they are long-term renters. It’s actually easy these days to get a copy of deed online. One example is ACRIS here in New York. Most other states and counties are similar.
One note – it is a bit harder to obtain documents for co-ops (co-ops always worse during the probate process). You would need to call the management company for the information, which is sometimes like pulling teeth. They will need to check their internal records for the owner, and they may not provide you with the information.
Once you have the deed, you want to clarify the owner. Is it the decedent? Was it in a trust? Is it in some other relative’s name? Let’s say it’s your uncle who passed, but he actually moved into the house after your grandfather passed years before. It could likely still be in your grandfather’s name. That would add a few layers of complexity to ownership. Deeds can also have joint owners, and co-ops can have beneficiaries. If there is a joint owner or beneficiary, and it’s not you, then you don’t own it.
What happens to a mortgage when house is inherited?
The next step is to see if there is a mortgage. When someone passes, the mortgage has to be paid off. So, it’s important to find out if there is a mortgage and how much it is. It doesn’t mean the heir is immediately on the hook for the mortgage payments, but it does need to be settled before the house is sold. If the mortgage amount balance is really large or underwater, it will definitely affect how you approach the estate. If the estate is close to or completely insolvent it makes the estate very cash poor, which changes how the estate is administered.
Checking for a mortgage is similar to checking for a deed. Except for co-ops, mortgage information may be found online, on the statements that come in the mail, tax assessment offices, or on tax returns.
In addition to searching for mortgages, you also want to look for potential larger debts. If there are tax debts, public assistance or Medicaid debts, second mortgages, etc., these debts must be paid first before anyone can get paid out from the proceeds from the real estate sale.
Did you inherit tenants, too?
Lastly, to determine if you can or want to sell the property, you need to figure out if the property is occupied. Did you inherit tenants? Is it vacent? If it’s occupied, it will affect how you approach the estate. For example, if there is another heir living there and won’t leave, that is a whole set of additional problems. If it’s an actual tenant, it’s not as clear cut as one would expect either. More often than not, tenants after the owner pass create problems and lose their moral compass. Evicting or removing tenants is usually a nightmare. It may change your approach to selling the property.
Check out Anthony’s book, “How Probate Works,” which will break down what is involved with administering a decedent’s estate with property.