Question: Do I need to go through a lengthy probate process to sell my mother’s house (her only asset) or is there a simpler way? My sister and I are her only heirs, and my mother had a Will. I have heard that probate can take 8 months to a year or longer.
Loraine’s Answer: Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother.
Based on the facts as you state them (your mother had a Will; you and your sister are the only two heirs), and assuming that your mother was the sole owner of the house, then your mother’s Will must be admitted to probate before you will be able to sell her home. There is no other option.
However: You are conflating several different things. Having the Will admitted to probate is the first step. The admission to probate does not normally take eight months to a year in a case where the original Will exists, the death certificate is available, and all heirs are adults and willing to sign the probate petition (preferably a Petition to Probate Will in Solemn Form), especially if the Will waives bond, inventory, and reports, grants the right powers, and has a self-proving affidavit. I do not know whether your mother’s Will meets all of these requirements. In most cases, if all of those things are present, having the Will admitted to probate takes at most a few months, often much less than that.
After the Will has been admitted to probate, the next part of the process is administering the estate. That process can take eight months to a year or longer. However, you should not have to fully administer the estate before you can sell the house. As soon as the Will has been admitted to probate, and the Executor has been appointed and granted Letters Testamentary, the Executor can sell the house. The proceeds would then be placed in an estate account and the Executor would then need to complete the administration process. After the administration has been completed, the remaining proceeds can be distributed to the beneficiaries under the Will.
It would be very unusual for it to take eight months or longer for you to be able to sell the house just because your mother’s Will must first be admitted to probate. The Executor should be able to sell it directly from the estate and not have to fully administer the estate and distribute the house to the beneficiaries before it could be sold. I would recommend consulting with an experienced probate attorney to determine the issues that might come up in your mother’s estate and how to best handle things. I would expect you can probably sell the house fairly quickly once the Executor has been appointed, however.
Key Estate Planning Takeaway: While there is a definite process with steps to follow in administering an estate, selling a piece of property or other asset can take place once the decedent’s Will has been admitted to probate. There is generally no need to wait until the estate is completely settled and the assets have been distributed to the beneficiaries to sell estate assets.
This “Q&A with Loraine” blog series features answers from Morgan + DiSalvo Partner Loraine DiSalvo to questions posted on www.avvo.com. A key takeaway from each exchange highlights an important facet of estate planning.