How to Handle an Estate Sale After a Parent Dies

It’s never easy to lose a parent, but having to deal with the sale of their family home and the contents within it can make things even harder. And when there are other siblings involved or other interested parties in the property, the process can be a little more complicated.

An estate sale can be considered to be the sale of all contents of a home, much like a garage sale. But an estate sale can also involve the sale of a family home after the owner passes away. While selling the home of a relative who has recently passed is not entirely unlike selling any other home, there are a few more considerations that will need to be made. Being prepared for the process and any potential obstacles that may be faced can help ensure a more streamlined process.

Who is Legally Allowed to Sell the Home?

The first thing that will need to be addressed when selling the home of a deceased family member is determining who is allowed to deal with the sale. If the owner left a will behind that clearly states the name of the person authorized to handle this transaction, that person is known as the Executor and is legally allowed to sell the home. Otherwise, if the home is in a trust, then the named Trustee is the authorized individual.

However, there may be times when there is no will or trust left behind. In this case, someone must step forward and take responsibility. In this case, state law will provide a list of eligible people to take on this responsibility. In most cases, the surviving spouse will take over the home. Or, in the case of a single parent who has died, adult children will usually take priority, in which case each child would be granted equal ownership of the home.  There is no court order required to transfer the property to them in this case. 

If an executor is identified, it’s important to determine whether or not that person has the authority to sell the property. Specific instructions will ideally be stipulated in the will about selling the home. If the executor was not authorized to sell the real estate, then the heirs will have the authority to sell the property without required consent from the executor.

During a probate situation, the executor will usually take on the role of selling the property and dividing up the profits among the beneficiaries named in the will. Any property under probate will need to be appraised by the probate referee, and the value will typically be used as the listing price. Once the appraisal has been done, all beneficiaries of the will – or any other interested individuals or parties – are to be notified of the sale of the home.

If any of the beneficiaries do not consent to this sale, they have the option to buy all shares of the property. If several people want to buy out shares of the home, the court will need to get involved, which will have the ultimate power to decide if the sale should go through or not. If there are no objections, the executor can list the home and sell it with an agent.

Make Sure Bills Are Up-To-Date

Until the home has been sold, all bills will need to be kept up with. That means the mortgage, cable, telephone, and utility bills will all still have to be paid until the transaction is complete.

You can steer clear of any potential problems by ensuring that all pertinent bills are paid on time and in full until they’re no longer required. That said, all bills should be paid through the estate rather than one person taking it upon themselves to pay the bills personally.

Gather Up All Important Documents

Any financial documents related to the home will be required in order to complete an estate sale. These are necessary in order for any proceeds of the sale to be distributed to heirs appropriately. If certain documents are missing or can’t be obtained, the situation can become a little more complex.

The following are the documents that may be required to complete the transaction:

  • Will
  • Receipts from creditors
  • Investment paperwork
  • Life insurance documents
  • Homeowner’s insurance policy
  • Bank account information

Shred All Personal Documents

Any personal documentation that includes your deceased loved one’s Social Security Number and anything else that identifies that person should be destroyed. Given the rise in identity theft, it’s important to ensure that all information like this is kept out of the hands of identity thieves. By shredding all documents with this information on them, identity theft will be a lot more difficult.

Change the Locks

When word gets out that a home is vacant as a result of the death of the owner, the property will be a target of those with nefarious intentions. In addition to friends and relatives, other people may have gotten a hold of the keys over the years, including landscapers, contractors, or anyone else who may have done some work in the home.

In this case, you will want to boost the security of the home, and one way to do that is by changing the locks and only giving the new keys to the real estate agent who is handling the sale for you.

Call the Postal Office

Let the postal office know that any mail with your parent’s name on it should be forwarded to you. This will help you maintain control over any trickling mail that may still come in over the next few weeks or months, as well as minimize any pile-up in the mailbox.

Stage the Home Professionally

Unless your parent’s home was stylishly furnished or decorated, you may want to remove all possessions and have it staged by a professional home stager. But while you’re clearing out all of your parent’s possessions, make sure to include any other individual that may be privy to such items, including your siblings.

To make things easier, consider holding an estate sale to get rid of all remaining possessions that you or your siblings don’t want to keep.

Disclose Information About the Owner’s Death if it Occurred in the Home

If your parent passed away inside the home in question, this information will need to be disclosed to interested buyers. According to California law, a death on a property needs to be disclosed if it happened within three years of an offer coming in. But if the death happened outside of that three-year mark, you won’t be obligated to make such a disclosure.

The Bottom Line

Selling a parent’s home after they’ve passed on is never easy. The emotions involved can make this experience a challenging one. But selling the home and all things in it is usually necessary for all heirs involved. Be sure to work with a seasoned real estate agent and consider consulting with a real estate lawyer to make sure everything is handled the way it should be.