How Long Does an Executor Have to Sell a House? 


|10 min read

The death of a loved one leads to a stressful and emotional period. There are funeral arrangements, but also handling and distributing the assets of the deceased person’s possessions.

If you’ve been named executor of the estate, you now have a long list of tasks to complete; if you’re a beneficiary, you’re considering things like inheritance tax and the probate process. All parties are left with questions like, how long does an executor have to sell a house?

What is the Role of an Executor of an Estate?

An executor of an estate, also known as a personal representative, is a person appointed to manage and settle the estate of a deceased person according to the terms of the deceased’s will.

The executor of an estate is appointed by the person who writes the will, known as the testator. If a person dies without a will (known as dying “intestate”), if the will does not name an executor, or the named executor is unable or unwilling to serve, a court will appoint an administrator to perform similar duties.

Being an executor of an estate requires considerable work. Their role involves:

  • Identifying and securing all of the deceased person’s assets.
  • Paying all debts and taxes.
  • Filing the necessary legal documents with the probate court.
  • Distributing the remaining assets per the will’s specifications.
  • Any administration required by the will, which could mean selling or managing property, managing investments, and handling the day-to-day responsibilities of settling an estate.

The executor’s job is to ensure that the deceased person’s wishes are carried out and that any outstanding debts or obligations are met.

This is usually done through the probate process. Whether or not an estate has to go into probate depends on the size of the estate, how the estate was planned out, and the jurisdiction.

How Long is Probate?

The duration of the probate process can vary widely depending on several factors, including the estate’s complexity, the jurisdiction’s specific laws, whether the will is contested, and the efficiency of the court system handling the probate.

For straightforward estates without any disputes and with clear documentation, probate can often be completed within a few months, typically 3 to 6 months. If the estate involves multiple types of assets, such as real estate in different jurisdictions, various types of personal property, or if there are minor beneficiaries, probate could take anywhere from 6 months to a year.

Generally, executors and administrators should prepare for a process that can last at least a few months and manage the expectations of beneficiaries accordingly. It’s helpful to consult with an estate planning attorney to help navigate the process.

Timeline for Executors Selling a House

There’s no set timeline for an executor to sell a house during probate. The time it takes to sell the deceased person’s home depends on the probate court rules and how complex the estate is. Initially, the property sale cannot commence until the executor receives the formal authority to act, which comes with the probate court’s approval of their appointment.

Some states have statutory periods during which creditors can claim against the estate, and it may be prudent or necessary to wait until this period expires before finalizing a property sale to ensure that the estate has sufficient funds to cover all liabilities.

The actual timeframe for selling the house can further depend on the real estate market conditions and the specifics of the property. While a sale might be completed in a few months, the overall probate process can stretch to a year or more, especially in complex estates or if there are disputes among beneficiaries or creditors.

Executors need to manage the expectations of beneficiaries regarding how quickly the property can be sold, considering probate law and procedural constraints. Executors should consult with probate attorneys and real estate professionals to navigate issues effectively and ensure compliance with all legal requirements while aiming to expedite the sale process as much as possible.

Purchasing a House in Probate

Buyers considering purchasing a property involved in a probate sale may think they are getting a deal, but they need to know that the sale has to be approved by the probate court.

The approval process could take time, and the probate court may not approve a sale price that’s considerably below fair market value.

Understanding Probate in Property Sales

Probate is the legal procedure through which a deceased person’s will is validated, and their estate is administered. Probate laws differ based on local laws. When a property is part of an estate and not in a living trust, it cannot be legally sold until it has passed through probate.

Probate involves obtaining court approvals to ensure the will is executed according to the deceased’s wishes. The executor is responsible for ensuring that all debts, taxes, and inheritances are properly handled before any assets, including real estate, are distributed.

The necessity of court approval can introduce delays, making the timeline for selling a house through probate longer than a standard property sale. Typically, the probate process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on the estate’s complexity and the court system’s efficiency.

Thus, potential buyers and sellers must understand that the sale timeline is contingent on probate proceedings and not merely on the real estate market conditions.

Differences Between Beneficiary and Non-Beneficiary Executors

A beneficiary is someone who financially benefits from the proceeds of an estate. An executor can either be a beneficiary or non-beneficiary. If the executor is a non-beneficiary, it means that they will not receive any of the estate’s assets but are responsible for its administration.

If the executor is also the sole beneficiary, that is the fastest path for a home to be transferred. In these situations, the executor can easily have the property transferred into their name, and there’s no requirement for the home to be sold.

However, if multiple beneficiaries are involved, then selling the property is often necessary, even if the executor is a beneficiary.

Steps to Selling a House as an Executor: Probate Process

If a person dies and their home needs to be sold either to pay off debt, to be distributed, or as part of the deceased person’s wishes, then managing the sale falls on the shoulders of the executor. The executor must file the will with the probate court to start the process. According to most state and local laws, the executor has up to 30 days to file the will and initiate probate.

Once probate starts, the executor gets permission to secure the deceased person’s assets and manage the sale process. There is no strict timeline for an executor to sell a house. The length of time the process takes depends on the complexity of the estate.

Executor Takes Control of Estate Assets: Up to 3 Weeks

As soon as an executor is appointed, they need to take control of the estate assets. The process of securing the property includes:

  • Changing the locks to prevent unauthorized access to the property.
  • Arranging maintenance to be carried out, including cleaning, gardening, and any other tasks required to protect the asset from losing value during the sale process.
  • Managing or changing the billing details of essential utilities.
  • Obtaining insurance under the estate’s name to protect the estate from losses due to fire, theft, natural disasters, or other unforeseen events.
  • Keeping the property financially sound and avoiding legal complications by making mortgage payments and keeping up with property taxes.

The time to fully secure a property usually takes a few weeks. It can take time to get proof of death to the necessary authorities. However, each step is necessary to ensure that the property attracts buyers when listed on the market.

Inventory and Property Appraisal: 1-3 Months

With the home secure, the executor needs to take inventory of the home’s possessions and get a property appraisal. The inventory process includes cataloging all personal property, including cars, furniture, jewelry, artwork, and other belongings. These items will need to be distributed according to the instructions in the will.

Next, the executor needs to establish fair market value of the real estate. They will engage a professional real estate appraiser to get a non-biased appraisal of the home’s value.

This valuation is crucial for several reasons, including tax calculations, equitable distribution among heirs, and determining the sale price for the property. It provides a cost basis for beneficiaries in the event that any improvements are undertaken while preparing the house for sale. 

Prepare the Property for Sale: 1-3 Months

Preparing a property for sale during probate is very much the same as a traditional home sale. However, in probate situations, the executor may have little funds to invest in the property.

It’s not uncommon for a home being sold through probate to be sold as-is.

When making improvements to a home, the executor should focus on any significant items in need of repair, such as:

  • Addressing structural issues such as problems with the roof, foundation, plumbing, or electrical systems.
  • Repairing or replacing essential fixtures and features, such as HVAC systems, windows, doors, and flooring.
  • Ensuring all safety devices, such as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, are working properly.

Suppose the beneficiaries approve of additional renovations to add value to the home. In that case, the executor should consult with a real estate professional to determine what improvements will have the most impact on the sale price. When selling property during the probate process, it’s important to work with an agent with experience working with properties in probate.

Find the right real estate agent with FastExpert. FastExpert helps you review agent track records, read reviews, and find the best professional to help you navigate the property sale and probate process. Expect one to three months to get the house ready to list on the market.

List and Market the Property with a Real Estate Agent: 1-6 Months

With the home looking its best, it’s time to list it for sale with a realtor. Make sure you choose a real estate agent who is experienced in probate sales, has experience in your market, and can effectively market the property.

When setting a listing price, the agent should provide a list of comparable sales. Consider factors such as the property’s condition, market trends, and the urgency of the sale when setting the price. If the goal is a fast sale, a price below market value can attract multiple buyers and potentially lead to a bidding war.

The agent will help navigate offers and negotiations. The executor’s fiduciary responsibility is to secure the best sale price and contract terms for the beneficiaries. The time it takes to list and market a property depends on the property and market conditions.

In a hot seller’s market, an offer can be accepted in a matter of days, but in a cold market, it can take up to six months to sell a house.

Gain Probate Court Approval, Sale and Closing: 1-3 Months

Once a buyer is found and an offer is accepted, escrow is opened, and the closing process begins. In some probate situations, the executor must also obtain court approval if required, which can extend the timeline.

During escrow, the executor will work with the agent to facilitate any inspections and valuations needed to complete the sale. After contingencies are cleared, the contract becomes unconditional, and closing can proceed. Escrow and closing take between one and three months.

Pay Debts and Taxes: Up to 2 Months

Before any sale proceeds of inherited property can be distributed to estate beneficiaries, any debts, legal fees, and taxes must first be paid. The executor should consult with an estate attorney and trust accountant to make sure that all probate laws are followed and taxes paid.

After payments are made, the executor can proceed with distributing the remaining funds.

Distributing Assets: Up to 2 Months

After the sale of the house and all other estate assets have been liquidated, the executor can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the will. The executor must be prepared to provide a transparent account of all transactions and actions taken during the estate administration.

This includes a detailed final accounting that includes all income received, expenses paid, and the distribution plan for the remaining assets. The final accounting will need to be submitted to the probate clerk.

Finally, it’s time to transfer the estate’s remaining assets to the rightful beneficiaries as outlined in the will.

Find an Agent Experienced with Probate with FastExpert

Executors play a crucial role in handling the affairs of a deceased person, including the sale of their home and distribution of inherited property. However, they need to work with the probate court and ensure all local laws are followed.

Throughout the sale process, executors should consult with legal and real estate professionals to help them navigate the legal process. Working with real estate professionals experienced in probate sales can make a significant difference in managing and expediting the sale of the property.

These experts not only ensure adherence to legal standards but also help in achieving the best possible outcomes in real estate transactions.

If you are preparing to sell a home in probate, FastExpert can help by connecting you with top local real estate agents experienced in the probate process. With FastExpert, you can find an agent equipped with the knowledge and experience needed to guide you through the process efficiently, saving you time, money, and stress.

Kelsey Heath

Kelsey Heath is a real estate content specialist with an extensive background in residential, industrial, and commercial property. She has been involved in the industry for a decade as a professional and personal investor, gaining a deep understanding of the market and trends. With a passion for written communication, Kelsey loves helping people understand the sometimes-complicated concepts behind real estate and is now a sought-out guest and ghostwriter.

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