In order to establish when a deceased’s property can be sold you must first identify how the property is owned. Depending on how the deceased owned their property will dictate if it is necessary to obtain a grant of probate and therefore when the property can be sold.
To find out how a property is owned you can order an official copy of the register from HM land Registry through the government website. You can only do this if the property has been registered; some older properties that have not been brought or sold in a long time may not be registered. Even if you are in possession of the property’s deeds, if these appear to be old, they may be outdated and may not correctly reflect the current ownership of the property.
How can a property be owned?
A property can be owned either in the deceased’s sole name, in joint names with another person or in tenants in common with another person or multiple people.
Property owned in the sole name of the deceased will require a grant of probate in order to be transferred or sold. That means that the executor must complete the application to the probate office and settle any inheritance tax on the estate (if due) before the Grant of probate will be issued and the property can be sold or transferred to the new owner.
Property owned as tenants in common will require a grant of probate to transfer or sell the share of the property that is owned by the deceased to anyone that is not the surviving owner. In order to sell a property that is owned as tenants in common all of the owners would need to participate in the sale, unless you are just selling the deceased’s share, for example to another person who owns a share in the property. The transfer of their share or the sale of their share cannot take place until a grant of probate has been obtained.
If a property is owned in joint names with another person a grant of probate is not required. The property will automatically pass to the surviving owner, although HM Land registry must be informed so that their records show the correct ownership from joint to sole. It is up to the surviving owner what they wish to do with the property as the sole owner. They do not have to wait for a grant of probate if they intend to sell the property.
What steps can you take to sell the deceased’s property while probate is being applied for?
Although a property cannot be transfer to the new owner until a grant of probate has been issued, there are still actions that the executors/beneficiaries can take to prepare the house for sale.
Clearing the property – The executor should start to clear the deceased’s property early in order to collect the deceased’s financial and personal paperwork, identify any possessions of a potential high value, as well as assessing the value of the property’s contents, all of this information is needed when applying for a grant of probate. Clearing the property of any rubbish or excessive bric-a-brac, as well as removing any possessions that are to be passed to beneficiaries will give you a much better idea of what work needs to be done before the house is ready to be put on the market. All of this can be done before a grant of probate has been issued.
Cleaning the property –The executor should arrange to have the property cleaned before having photos taken for marketing and viewings from potential buyers. This can be done before a grant of probate has been issued.
Making small improvements or undertaking maintenance – While waiting for a grant of probate to be obtained you can make improvements to the property to increase its chances of selling or increasing the value. This could be things like painting in neutral colours, removing damaged or decrepit fixtures etc. However, when making upgrades to the property to increase its value it is important that the increased value due to these improvements is reflected in the Valuation submitted to HMRC on the inheritance tax forms.
Marketing the property – Although the property cannot be transferred until probate has been granted, you can start marketing the property and start looking for a buyer. If a potential buyer is found it is important to make them aware that it is a probate property and that the purchase cannot be completed until probate has been issued.