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Is There a Time Limit for an Executor to Sell a House?

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If you’ve been designated as the executor of an estate that includes an inherited home, you probably have some questions. First and foremost, you may be wondering: How long does an executor have to sell a house? Is there a time limit?

As a named executor, you’re tasked with making sure that the deceased person’s property is liquidated and/or distributed according to what is outlined in the will. On top of all that, you’re likely dealing with the emotional strain that comes with losing a family member or close friend.

To help minimize extra stress during an already challenging time, we’ve gathered all the essential details from experienced probate attorneys and a top real estate agent. Our goal is for this guide to help you navigate the process of selling an inherited house within the designated time frame.

A clock illustrates the question of how long an executor has to sell a house.
(Source: Moritz Kindler / Unsplash)

How long do you have to sell a house as an executor?

According to Matthew Harber, a top real estate agent in Tacoma, Washington who regularly handles probate sales, there’s no universal timeline for executors. If probate has been opened for a property, the timing has to do with getting the house sold before probate has been closed — and that will be different for every estate.

“The sale of the home needs to be done before probate is closed, but there’s no fixed timeframe — it could be two months, six months, or a year. It’s dependent on what is going on with the estate and whether people are contesting things,” Harber explains. “Ultimately, when all of the outcomes have been decided upon, the court will set a date for the end of probate, and the house should be sold prior to that date.”

A photo of the scales of Justice illustrate an executor's need for a lawyer.
(Source: Tingey Injury Law Firm / Unsplash)

What are your responsibilities as executor?

While selling the house might seem like the most important part of the job, the role of executor may involve other obligations as well.

According to real estate attorney Rajeh A. Saadeh, the executor must make sure the estate is administered in accordance with the law, that the decedent’s creditors are paid from the estate, and that the beneficiaries all receive their appropriate shares of the balance.

In some cases, the executor is also the beneficiary of the estate. In that’s true for you, it’s important that you are able to meet the executor’s obligations without any conflict of interest—particularly if there are multiple beneficiaries. If you anticipate any conflict, it’s best to find someone else to serve as executor.

Jason R. Savarese, an estate planning attorney with Savrese & Associates PLLC in Gulfport, Mississippi, points out that executor duties vary by state. For this reason, he recommends hiring a lawyer in your city who is knowledgeable in local probate laws.

“For my executors, I do all the drafting of documents and handle almost all court appearances,” he says. “Essentially, executors who hire me must provide me with a list of the estate assets, contact information for all named beneficiaries in the will, and a list of all known creditors. Then the executor needs to be available to sign anything I need within a reasonable amount of time.”

When it comes to the house, Savarese points out that in his state, executors have a duty to keep the property safe (which includes getting proper insurance, changing the locks, and securing all valuables), to maintain it (for example, keeping the grass cut, repairing roof leaks, etc.), and collecting rents or evicting nonpaying tenants.

A photo of a woman working illustrates an executor's need for a lawyer or real estate agent.
(Source: Inera Isovic / Unsplash)

A word about probate

As the executor, it’s important to have a basic understanding of probate. This is essentially the process of a court going through the assets in the estate, using those assets to pay any outstanding debts or taxes, and ensuring that all remaining assets are appropriately distributed according to the will. Probate can sometimes be a lengthy process, typically lasting up to 24 months after the estate owner’s death.

Not all assets will have to go through probate, however. According to EstatePlanning.com, the following assets can usually be disbursed outside of probate:

  • Assets that are jointly owned, which can be transferred to a surviving owner
  • Assets that are held in a trust
  • Assets that have been designated to a valid beneficiary

Probate laws vary by state, so it’s a good idea to work with an attorney and/or real estate agent who understands the local laws and regulations.

A pocket watch illustrates an executor's timeline for selling a house.
(Source: Isabella Christina / Unsplash)

Executor as beneficiary vs. non-beneficiary

The timeline for selling the house will also depend on whether the executor is the beneficiary or not. James Millane, Esq., senior counsel with Lanak & Hanna, breaks it down for us.

If the person who passed away left the house to you and also named you the executor, you can have the house transferred to yourself by the probate court, at which point you can sell it, rent it or transfer it however you see fit. “If the executor owns the home, there is no timeline for them to sell it,” Millane says.

If you are tasked with selling the home per the terms of the will, you must obtain approval from the probate court to sell the home. Once that is approved, you are authorized to execute the real estate documents to transfer the title to the property, or you can sell the home and receive the proceeds as a beneficiary of the will, Millan explains.

However, if you are not a beneficiary and the will mandates that the house is sold, you should place the property on the market for sale. “The executor may be able to purchase the house in an ‘arms-length transaction’ for the market value of the house, with the proceeds of the purchase to be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate,” says Millane. “In this case, the executor should have a dialogue with the beneficiaries to determine whether there is any objection to the executor purchasing the home at fair market value.”

A photo of a house to show an example of what an executor might sell.
(Source: Ethan Kent / Unsplash)

What are the steps involved in selling a house as the executor?

In most states, the steps to selling an inherited house will follow a path similar to the following:

File the will with a probate court

Once you have possession of the will, it’s your responsibility as executor to file it with the probate court after the decedent’s death. In most states, you have 30 days to complete this step. While it’s not mandatory for a will or an estate to go through the probate process, it is usually required to pass along legal ownership of any inherited property.

If the home was left only to you, Savarese says you can ask the court for permission to sell the house while it is probate, as soon as you obtain a “letter of testamentary” that officially names you as the executor.

List the house for sale

As an executor, you may be wondering if it’s necessary to list the home on the open market. While there may be exceptions—such as a property that is already subject to certain binding agreements like a lease or an option to purchase—attorney Jamie Hargrove, CEO of NetLaw Group, generally recommends listing the home.

“An executor is a fiduciary of the estate and generally is charged with maximizing the value of the estate for the benefit of the beneficiaries—so this would generally mean that the property should go on the open market,” he explains.

As with any home sale, it’s always a good idea to work with an experienced real estate agent who understands the process of selling inherited homes. Once the listing paperwork is signed, the rest of the process isn’t a whole lot different than a regular sale, says Harber.

Get a contract

Once you get a signed contract, you must submit it to the probate court along with the buyer’s offer to get approval to close on the sale.

“If the house was left to multiple people, each of them should sign a waiver stating that they agree with the sale of the house for the offered price,” says Savarese. “This will also be submitted to the court for review.”

Get approval and close

The next step is to get a court order approving the sale, and then close on the sale by signing an executor’s deed.

“In some situations, the executor can simply sign the deed to convey the property,” says Hargrove. “In other situations, depending on the state, and also sometimes the details of the bequest of the property in the will, the transfer may require the signatures of the beneficiaries of the property, and often their spouses.”

Adam Ansari, a probate attorney with Clark Hill, points out that the executor will sign on behalf of the estate. For example, the seller in a transaction will be the John Doe Estate, and Jane Doe will sign in her capacity as executor for the John Doe Estate.

Receive the proceeds

Ansari recommends that the executor create a bank account for the estate. The proceeds from the sale of the house will first pay off any lien creditors, and the remaining amount will go into the estate’s bank account.

“If the executor is the sole beneficiary and is acting in an independent capacity, then after other debts are paid, the executor can transfer the proceeds to him or herself, as sole beneficiary,” he says.

Savarese says that in most cases, the executor will get a check at closing from the real estate lawyer handling the closing. “That check should be made payable to the estate, and either deposited into a checking account set up for the estate by the executor, or deposited with the probate court,” he explains. “Each jurisdiction or judge will have their own rules on this.”

Harber points out that the distribution of proceeds may be different based on whether the estate is going through probate or not. “If there’s no probate, all beneficiaries have to sign and everyone has to agree where the funds will go, whether it’s a trust account or a bank account, to be distributed evenly among everyone,” he explains. “If it’s probated, the proceeds will often go to an attorney’s trust account and are then distributed.”

Header Image Source: (Todd Kent / Unsplash)