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Can You Sell A House Without Probate?

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Selling a house without probate is a daunting task that can leave many feeling lost and uncertain. But fear not, dear reader, for I’m here to guide you through the process with clarity and compassion.

As a seasoned property expert, I’ve seen my fair share of complex situations, and I’m more than happy to share my insights with you.

First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room: can you sell a house without probate? The short answer is yes, but it’s not always straightforward.

Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate, and it typically involves obtaining a Grant of Probate from the Probate Registry. However, there are certain circumstances where selling a house without probate is possible.

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Can You Sell a House Without Probate?

In the majority of cases, it is not possible to officially sell a house without obtaining a grant of probate. This is because the executor has no legal authority to sell the property until they have been granted probate. The only exceptions to this rule are:

  1. If the deceased owned the property jointly with someone else as joint tenants, the property will automatically pass to the surviving owner under the rules of survivorship, and they can sell it without requiring probate.
  2. If the property is held in a trust, the trustee may be able to sell it without probate, depending on the terms of the trust.

However, there are steps that executors can take to prepare for the sale of the property while waiting for the grant of probate:

  • Check the property’s title deeds to ensure they are in order and that the deceased was the sole owner or a tenant in common.
  • Obtain a valuation of the property for inheritance tax purposes. It is recommended to get two or three estate agent valuations reflecting the property’s value at the date of the owner’s death.
  • Inform the insurance provider that the property is unoccupied and update the policy to ensure adequate coverage.
  • Secure and maintain the property to prevent damage or theft.
  • Begin the process of selecting an estate agent and preparing the property for sale.

Once the grant of probate has been obtained, the executor can proceed with exchanging contracts and completing the sale. To manage expectations regarding timescales, you must inform the estate agent and potential buyers that the sale is subject to probate.

ScenarioCan the property be sold without probate?
Sole OwnershipNo
Joint tenantsYes, by the surviving owner
Tenants in commonNo, probate required for the deceased’s share
Property held in trustDepends on the terms of the trust

Attempting to sell a property before receiving the grant of probate can lead to:

  • Legal complications and potential liability for the executor
  • Delays in the sale process if the grant is not issued in time
  • Buyers pulling out of the sale due to uncertainty
  • Financial issues, as the executor will need to pay probate fees, inheritance tax, and maintenance costs out of pocket before being able to claim them from the estate.
 

 

Selling With A Surviving Spouse

If a property is owned jointly with a surviving spouse or partner, the latter may be able to sell it without probate. This is because the property automatically passes to the surviving joint tenant under the survivorship rules outside of the probate process. 

For example, if John and Mary owned a house together and John passed away, Mary would automatically inherit the property and could sell it without needing probate.

 

 

Selling With A Trust

Another scenario where selling a house without probate is possible is if the property is held in a trust. In this case, the trust’s trustees have the legal authority to sell the property, even before probate is granted.

For instance, if a property was placed in a trust for the benefit of the deceased’s children, the trustees could sell the property without needing probate.

 

 

Real-Life Examples

Let’s consider a real-life example.

Imagine Sarah’s father passed away, leaving behind a house that was jointly owned with her mother. Sarah’s mother could sell the house without needing probate, as she automatically inherited the property under the rules of survivorship. Alternatively, if the house was held in a trust for Sarah’s benefit, the trustees could sell the property without needing probate.

What is Probate?

Probate refers to the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person. When someone dies, their assets, including property, must be valued, any tax due on the estate paid, debts settled, and then the assets can be distributed to their beneficiaries.

This process is carried out in accordance with the deceased’s wishes as set out in their will or, if there is no will, in accordance with the rules of intestacy.

Probate for Registered vs Unregistered Properties

One of the first steps executors should take is to check with the Land Registry to determine if the property’s title is officially registered. Most properties in the UK are now registered, but some unregistered titles still exist, particularly for properties that haven’t changed hands in many years.

If the title is registered, the executor can obtain copies of the title plan and register entries to verify ownership, check for mortgages or other charges, and ensure all the necessary documentation is in order. If the title is unregistered, the original physical deeds will need to be located.

These may be with the deceased’s papers, their solicitor, their mortgage lender, or in a bank safe deposit box. Having the title documentation checked by a professional early on allows time to resolve any issues before a buyer is found. For example, the death of a previous joint owner may need to be registered before the executors can proceed with the sale.

can you sell a house without probate
While executors can't complete the sale without probate, they can take steps to prepare.

Preparing to Sell During Probate

While executors can’t complete the sale without probate, they can take steps to prepare, such as:

  • Obtaining a professional valuation of the property for inheritance tax purposes
  • Ensuring adequate insurance is in place, as the deceased’s policy may have lapsed
  • Securing and maintaining the property to prevent damage or theft
  • Selecting an estate agent and solicitor and preparing the property for viewings.
 

If the estate is relatively simple and probate is expected to be granted within a few months, the executor may choose to have the estate agent begin marketing the property, understanding that contracts can’t be exchanged until probate is complete. However, if any complexities or challenges to the will are expected, it’s usually prudent to wait.

In rare situations where the estate urgently requires funds, the executors may be able to apply for a “Grant of Representation” that gives them authority to initiate a sale prior to the full grant of probate. However, this is only allowed in limited circumstances and under close scrutiny by the probate registry.

When my aunt passed away, I witnessed firsthand how stressful it can be for executors to balance the desire to settle the estate quickly with the need to follow proper legal procedures. In her case, the estate agent was able to begin showing the property and gathering initial interest, but we had to be very clear with potential buyers that the actual sale couldn’t proceed until probate was granted, which took about 4 months.

Can You Market A Probate Property Before Probate Is Granted?

Yes, you can market a probate property before probate is granted. However, you cannot exchange contracts or complete the sale until the grant of probate has been issued.

Can You Empty A Probate Property Before Probate Is Granted?

Upon the wrong advice of an estate agent, the executor or administrator of the estate may choose to remove the belongings from the property before probate if they believe it is necessary for the management of the estate. However, this can lead to disputes and inevitable delays in settling the estate.

Empty a property before probate is not recommended until all beneficiaries agree.

Can People Live In A Probate Property Before It Is Sold?

Yes, people can live in a probate property before it is sold. However, it’s important to note that the living arrangements in a probate property can vary depending on the circumstances and the wishes of the beneficiaries.

 

Selling to a Cash Buyer vs Traditional Estate Agent Process

Executors who are feeling pressured to sell a probate property quickly may be considering a cash house buying company like Property Saviour as an alternative to the traditional estate agent route. The potential advantages include:

  • Faster completion, often within a few weeks rather than months
  • Certainty of the sale, with no risk of the buyer’s financing falling through
  • Ability to sell the property “as is” without the need for repairs or staging
  • Assistance with some probate paperwork and processes

 

However, the trade-off is that the cash offer will generally be lower than the open market value that could potentially be achieved by listing with an estate agent. Executors must weigh the desire for a quick solution against their duty to maximise the value of the estate for the beneficiaries.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to sell an inherited property quickly, selling to a reputable cash house buyer like Property Saviour can offer several advantages over the traditional estate agent route:

Pros of Selling to Property SaviourCons of Selling via Estate Agent
Quick turnaround, with completion in as little as 10 daysA lengthy process, often taking 6+ months
No fees to pay, and they contribute £1,500 towards legal costsEstate agent fees and potential additional charges
Certainty of sale, as Property Saviour is a genuine cash buyerRisk of fall-through, as buyers may pull out or renegotiate the price
Willing to purchase properties in any conditionDifficulty selling homes in poor condition or with legal issues
Discrete and sensitive approach to dealing with inherited propertiesLack of specialised knowledge in probate sales

We'll buy your probate property as soon as you are ready

If you’re an executor dealing with a probate property and want a quick, hassle-free sale, get in touch with Property Saviour today. We can make you a fair cash offer and complete the purchase as soon as the Grant of Probate comes through, giving you one less thing to worry about during this challenging time.

Our friendly team is here to answer any questions you may have and guide you through the process with sensitivity and care.

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