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Selling a home after someone has died

Everything you need to know about selling a probate property, from your role as executor to inheritance tax and the selling process.

Guest Author
Words by: Matilda Battersby


Organising the practical things after the death of a loved one can be very difficult. And selling a home is already a complicated thing to manage.

Here, we take you through the 10-step process of how to sell a home that's been left to you after someone has died, from putting it up for sale to the final stages of completion.

Do you have to sell a house after someone dies?

No. The people named in the will have the right to transfer the home into their names.

If you do this, the home will legally belong to whoever’s name has been transferred onto the deed. 

That person, or group of people, can then decide if they want to live in it, rent it out or sell it at a later date.

However, if the property is part of an estate that's worth more than £325,000, you will need to pay inheritance tax on it.

Inheritance tax is 40% of anything over £325,000.

Thinking of selling?

Get the ball rolling with an in-person valuation of your home. It’s free and there’s no obligation to sell if you change your mind.

What is an executor?

If you’re named as an executor in someone’s will, you'll have a lot of duties and responsibilities placed upon you.

It falls on to you to value the assets of the estate, pay off any debts and liabilities, then calculate and pay any inheritance tax that's due.

You'll also be responsible for dividing and distributing the money and other assets in accordance with the will.

If you choose to sell a property that you've inherited, you as the executor will need to organise the sale.

What does a probate sale mean?

When a person dies and their home needs to be sold, it's called a probate sale.

If you're the executor named in the will, then you'll be granted the legal right to administer their estate.

It can take a few weeks for this legal process to take place. Once it's gone through, you'll be granted probate and you'll have the legal right to sell the home.

As an executor, it will fall to you to pay off any debts or outstanding bills. You'll also need to calculate and pay any inheritance tax.

Can a house be sold before probate is granted?

No, you can’t complete the sale before probate is granted.

You can put a home on the market almost immediately. 

But you need to remember it can take 12 weeks or more to be granted probate.

And, without a probate document, you can’t complete a sale. So it’s sensible to allow a good 3 to 6 months to sell up.

How much inheritance tax will I pay on a home?

You need to pay inheritance tax on estates worth more than £325,000. You'll pay 40% of any amount over this.

This threshold rises to £500,000 if you leave your estate to your children or grandchildren.

That means the level at which the tax kicks in can be as high as £1 million, if you pool your tax-free allowance with your partner and leave your estate to your children or grandchildren.

It then becomes 40% of anything over those thresholds.

However, if the estate is worth over £2 million, that tax-free threshold starts to diminish.

The main residence allowance will decrease by £1 for every £2 above £2 million that the deceased's estate is worth.

So on an estate worth £2,000,002, the main residence allowance would decrease to £499,999 and you would pay inheritance tax on the remaining £1,500,003. And so on.

Check our full explainer of the rules on inheritance tax.

What are the rules on inheritance tax?

How long does an executor have to sell the house in the UK?

The executor should begin the distribution of the estate within 12 months.

This is called the 'Executor's Year'. It's the accepted period of time for the executor to organise everything.

Other factors can dictate how quickly you need to sell within that year.

A common pressure is the need to use cash from the house sale to pay inheritance tax to HMRC. This is due within 6 months of the estate owner's death.

So if it takes up to 12 weeks (3 months) to be granted probate, it can leave you as little as 3 months to sell the property.

If the 6 month deadline comes up before the property has been sold, and there isn’t enough cash in the estate to pay the tax, the executor might find themselves in a tight spot.

You, as the executor, can pay the tax out of your own pocket, which can be repaid once any property has been sold.

But that can be a complicated process. And, HMRC issues penalty fines if the tax isn’t paid within 6 months.

If the tax isn’t paid on time, HMRC also has the power to withhold receipts, which can prevent the executor being granted probate. So it can all start to feel like a Catch-22 situation.

The tax is calculated in advance, and if the home sells for more or less than expected, HMRC will give you a rebate or you’ll need to pay the extra sum on top.

Can the executor sell a property without all the beneficiaries approving the sale?

Yes, the executor can sell the home without the approval of the beneficiaries.

There is no requirement for beneficiaries to approve how assets are administered.

While the executor can make the final decision on the home sale, notice of the sale will be sent to all the beneficiaries so they know about it.

The executor also has a duty to get market value for the house.

If the beneficiaries believe the house is sold for under market value, they can challenge the sale. They can also get the executor of the will removed if they think they are acting improperly.

How easy is it to sell a probate home?

There are lots of these types of homes for sale, and buyers are familiar with the concept.

You may find it relatively easy to sell up, especially if you’re happy to price the home competitively.

Being chain-free and the fact that the property may offer a renovation opportunity might mean buyers are queuing up to take it on. 

A woman drinking a cup of tea while thoughtfully looking out of a window onto a garden

How to sell a property after someone dies

Selling a home after someone dies is a bit different from the usual process.

In order to sell a late person's home, you must be the executor of their will. 

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

1. Apply for probate

As an executor of a will, you’ll need to get what is known as a grant of probate.

Probate is a legal document issued by a court. It costs between £155 and £273 to apply for probate, depending on if you do it yourself or use a professional.

Once obtained, this document confirms you and any other executors have the legal authority to deal with the money and property belonging to the person who died. 

Getting probate gives you the legal right to sell a house. 

But, remember, it can take 12 weeks or more to get probate. 

Apply for probate on GOV.UK.

2. Get a valuation on the property

Get the home valued as soon as you can. You could do this while you're waiting for probate, or even before you apply.

With a probate sale, the value should reflect the market rate of the home at the date the owner died.

This value is likely to be a bit different from what the home might actually sell for at a later date. But don’t worry too much about this at this stage.

Getting your home valued by an estate agent is free. They'll usually pop over when it suits you, and let you know their estimated value within a couple of days.

We recommend asking three different agents for a valuation to get a good steer.

Ask some local estate agents to value your home with our quick online form.

3. Get a lawyer to help you check the title and deeds

A title and deeds are the legal documents that show who owns a property.

You can get them from the Land Registry. Ask a solicitor to check them to see if there are any problems.

For example, there might be restrictions or defects in the deeds which will need to be sorted out before it can be sold.

There could be an outstanding mortgage you were not initially aware of. Or, there's even the possibility that someone else might own a share in the property.

Check the title and deeds of a home on the Land Registry on GOV.UK.

4. What if not everyone agrees to sell a probate home? 

There may be several people named as the beneficiaries of an estate. But this doesn’t mean everyone in the will has to agree to sell a home that is part of it.

Only the person or people named as the executors of the will have the right to agree to the sale of a home.

Other people who might benefit from the property sale don’t usually need to sign off on it. 

There are some wills that will ask all beneficiaries to sign off on a home sale, but this is not standard.

Either way, you should talk to everyone involved and give them a chance to have their say in the matter.

If a home is sold for less than market value, disgruntled beneficiaries do have the option of suing the executor.

Of course, this is unlikely. But emotions run high when people are grieving, so it helps to keep the lines of communication fully open and to record everything agreed in writing. 

5. Put the property on the market

Putting a home on the market with a traditional estate agent is usually straightforward.

When you get the property valued as part of applying for probate, you can talk to the estate agent about selling up.

Once probate is granted, you're free to choose to sell the property however you'd like to.

When selling an inherited home, dealing with the to-ing and fro-ing between solicitors and estate agents can be stressful and time-consuming after a loss.

Your estate agent can help by taking on the management of the viewings. This will be particularly useful if you don't live near to the home you’re selling.

Find a local estate agent.

6. Get the market value when you sell

As executor, you have a legal obligation to sell the property for the market value.

If you sell for less than this, a beneficiary can sue you for the difference in value. 

Bear this in mind before accepting a low offer in a bid to shift the property quickly. It might be worth waiting until you can achieve the right price.

You can find out the current market value of your property with our online valuation tool. It'll show you how the house has changed in value over time and what you could get if you rented it out.

7. Be realistic about timescales

Legally, there's nothing to stop you from putting the property on the market and accepting an offer before probate is issued.

But, the grant of probate must be in place in order to exchange contracts. And, it can sometimes take 12 weeks or more for probate to be granted.

So, it’s important to give estate agents and potential buyers a realistic timescale if you do put the property up for sale before probate.

Find out more about how long it takes to sell a house.

8. Get the home insured

As an executor, it’s also your job to make sure the property you’re selling is properly insured. 

Insurers can decide not to pay out on claims if the policy is still in the name of the person who has died. But it’s easy to call the insurer and ask them to change the name. 

It’s important you tell the insurer if the house is now standing empty. Most home insurance policies will not cover a property that's unoccupied for more than 30 days. 

You may need to pay more to cover the house if it’s empty for longer than a month.

The insurer may not insure the contents once the homeowner has died. This is because there’s a higher burglary risk. 

So, you may choose to remove anything valuable. But, to avoid arguments and upset, talk to family members and beneficiaries before doing this.

Find out how to find the best insurance policy to protect your home and its contents.

9. Clear the house 

It’s your job to clear the home of all furniture and belongings before it is sold. 

This can be a bit of an epic job. Especially if the home contains a lot of memories.

Be sure to leave enough time to help you to go through everything, and call in the experts if it’s too painful.

House clearance companies and charity furniture shops may come and collect larger items for a fee.

You or other beneficiaries might plan to keep some of the furniture or items from the house. Find out how much house removals cost.

10. What will it cost?

You shouldn’t have to pay any more legal costs than you would for the sale of any other property. 

Check out our full guide about the costs of selling a home.

There may be some modest costs. For example, you might pay for clearance, cleaning, or extra insurance.

Bills are also a consideration. You might need to keep the home heated during the winter to avoid it getting damp.

Equally, if you're struggling to sell it, you may want to spend money on improving a property before selling it. Paying a gardener to keep the outdoors tidy can help, too.

As executor, you can choose to make these improvements using money from the estate.

As always, it pays to check everyone else involved is happy with this money being spent, but the final say is legally yours.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.