How to Sell a House After the Death of a Parent?

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|13 min read

The death of a parent is a significant life event that carries not just emotional weight but often the complex responsibilities of dealing with the parent’s estate. And how you sell a parent’s house after death can impact both how you benefit monetarily and your relationships with other family members.

You need to understand how to navigate the probate process, financial documents, legal and financial issues, and tax implications on top of the normal steps required to sell the house.

Selling a property after the death of a parent isn’t a straightforward process; it’s a multifaceted task that involves emotional, practical, and legal considerations. This a comprehensive guide to help you navigate these complexities, drawing on expert advice and practical resources.

Understanding Estate Status and Probate on Inherited Property

When selling a house after the death of a parent, the first and crucial step involves understanding the estate status and probate, which forms the foundation of the process ahead. Once you know the estate’s standing, you’ll have a better idea of your next steps.

What is Probate?

Probate, in its simplest form, is a legal process. It involves a court that oversees the distribution of assets left by a deceased person’s will. Probate ensures the assets are distributed according to state law if no will exists. In the context of a house, the probate court will facilitate its transfer to the beneficiaries or its sale, as needed.

Ideally, probate should be avoided because it can be costly and time-consuming. However, whether or not you have to participate in the probate process depends on how the deceased parent planned their estate.

What is a Living Trust?

Not all estates require probate. Depending on how your parent planned their estate, alternative paths to bypass probate may exist. One such route is a living trust.

If your parent transferred their house into a living trust before their death, it can pass directly to the named beneficiaries without going through probate.

To have a living trust, the parent would have had to establish the living trust and designate a trustee and beneficiaries while living. Living trusts allow the grantor to designate how they want their assets used or distributed.

What is a Death Deed Transfer?

Another mechanism that helps avoid probate is a transfer-on-death deed. This legal document allows a house to pass directly to a beneficiary without going through probate, although its availability and use can vary by state. States that currently allow a transfer-on-death deed are called beneficiary deed states and include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

What is the Role of an Estate Executor or Personal Representative?

An estate executor, or personal representative, is involved in a living trust or transfer-on-dead deeds. This individual, usually named in the will, is entrusted with managing the estate, including the sale of the house. If no executor is named, the court will appoint one.

Executors are bound by a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries of the estate. Their duties involve:

  • Gathering the estate’s assets.
  • Paying off any debts or taxes.
  • Distributing the remaining assets as the will (or state law, if no will exists) directs.

Before you can sell a deceased parent’s house, you need to clearly understand the property’s ownership and any liens that may be held against it.

Understanding the financial matters surrounding the estate is critical and needs to be handled as soon as possible. You don’t want a mortgage to go into default.

Start by collecting:

  • Real Estate Property deeds (including any recent appraisals)
  • Existing mortgage documents (including promissory/loan notes)
  • Other Promissory or Loan notes

If you don’t have any of these documents, engaging a professional such as a real estate agent can be helpful. They can help you determine if there’s a mortgage, who to pay, and how it has been paid.

When sorting through your loved one’s belongings, keep an eye out for documents such as mortgage statements, medical bills, property tax records, utility bills, credit card statements, insurance policies, vehicle registrations, or HOA records, as these may come in handy throughout the process.

Until the home sells, necessary bills such as the mortgage, utilities, homeowners insurance, and property taxes will need to keep being paid.

A Title Search May be Necessary

You must know the entire financial story of a home before you can sell it. That means finding out if any judgments or liens are attached to the title. Examples include:

  • Reverse mortgage
  • Home equity line of credit (HELOC)
  • Tax arrears

A real estate agent can assist in running a title search so that you know of any property debt. Remember, to sell the house title it must have a clear title, so any debts need to be cleared or paid at the time of sale.

The Death Certificate: Who Do You Need to Submit it to?

Once you have a death certificate, it’s important to notify all relevant parties and creditors. Ideally, the deceased person has diligently kept a list of who they work with, but if not, this may take some time and investigation.

Here’s a general list of important entities that should be notified of an individual’s passing:

  • Banks or financial institutions.
  • Mortgage company.
  • Credit card companies
  • Investment firms (including retirement accounts)
  • Insurance companies (such as health, life, home, and car insurance company)
  • Social Security Administration
  • Credit Reporting Agencies

Addressing Tax Implications

In the US, inherited property can be subject to two different kinds of taxes: inheritance tax and estate taxes. However, if the inherited property produces income (for example, rent from a rental property), you will owe income tax on that income.

What is Inheritance Tax?

Inheritance tax applies to residents of Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. While estate taxes are levies applied to the deceased’s estate, this tax is levied on the beneficiary.

The tax rate depends on the state but can be as much as 18%.

Most states have tax exemption thresholds that depend on how much is inherited and how close the familial relationship was between the deceased and beneficiary. Check your local state’s exemption rules to better understand your potential tax liabilities.

What are Estate Taxes?

The federal government, and some states, impose an estate tax, which is a tax on the right to transfer property at your death.

Capital Gains Tax and a Step-Up Basis

Cost basis, referred to simply as “basis,” is a term used in tax law to refer to the original value of an asset for tax purposes. It’s the amount you’ll subtract from the sale price to determine your profit (or loss), which can then be taxed.

One of the benefits of inheriting property is a step-up in cost basis. That means that the property’s cost basis value gets adjusted to the asset’s fair market value at the time of death. That means that if you sell the property right away, you might now owe any capital gains tax.

However, if you sell the house later, after its value has had time to appreciate or after you’ve made some improvements, you could have capital gains tax implications.

Before you sell the house, consult with a tax professional to fully understand any tax implications that apply to your scenario.

Sorting and Securing Personal Belongings

Often one of the most challenging parts of selling your parent’s house is sorting and securing peronsonal belongings.

Identify and Secure Important Documents and Valuables

Securing important documents and valuables is paramount. Typically, documents such as wills, financial statements, real estate deeds, insurance policies, and personal identification should be located and kept in a safe place. These papers not only hold sentimental value but are also critical in settling the estate.

The same applies to valuables like jewelry, antiques, artwork, or other heirlooms. These should be appraised for value, documented, and safely stored to prevent any damage or loss. It can be helpful to involve a professional appraiser if the value of items is unknown or potentially high. Keep a record of these items, especially if there is more than one estate beneficiary.

Sort Through Personal Belongings

Sorting through personal belongings can be emotional and time-consuming. It involves deciding what to keep, sell, donate, or discard. It’s often helpful to approach this process systematically, moving room by room and categorizing items based on their destination.

To ease the emotional burden and provide support, it can help to have a close family member or friend present. Choose someone who can help make decisions, particularly for items of sentimental value.

Estate Sales

When disposing of items, an estate sale is a go-to choice. An estate sale can be run by a professional company, which helps separate emotions from the process. Depending on the items being sold, they can be a good source of revue.

Alternatives to Estate Sales

Having an estate sale isn’t appropriate for every scenario.

Other alternatives can include:

  • Auctioning valuable items.
  • Donating items to charitable organizations.
  • Even holding a yard or garage sale.

Some families use online marketplaces or consignment shops to sell items, especially if the process is not time-sensitive.

The right option depends on the amount and type of items, their potential value, the time available, and the emotional comfort of the family members involved.

Preparing the House for Sale

Once you’ve sorted through belongings and cleared the house, it’s time to prepare it for sale. Much of this process is similar to a traditional home selling timeline.

Hire a Real Estate Agent

An experienced agent, especially one who has handled estate sales, will provide invaluable assistance throughout the selling process.

They can advise you on how to present the house, help set the asking price, market the property effectively, and navigate the negotiations and paperwork involved in the sale.

Find a trusted real estate agent with FastExpert.

Address Necessary Repairs and Maintenance

A house in good condition tends to attract more potential buyers and can often fetch a higher price.

Make sure to inspect the property thoroughly, identify any issues – both minor and major – and undertake necessary repairs.

These can range from fixing leaking faucets and freshening up paint to addressing major structural issues or updating old electrical systems.

Should You Sell “As-Is?”

After a parent dies, you have the option to sell the house “as-is.” Selling as-is means selling the property in its current condition without undertaking any work.

The benefit of selling your parent’s house as-is is that it can speed up the process.

However, it often comes at the cost of a lower selling price because buyers will assume that repairs will be needed.

Determine Fair Market Value and Listing Price

Before listing the house, you need to determine the property’s fair market value. A real estate agent is your best resource for determining your property’s fair market value.

Fair market value is the price a willing buyer would pay a willing seller, assuming neither is pressured to act.

Your agent will assemble a comparative market analysis to help set a competitive and realistic asking price.

Put Together Disclosures

Disclosures refer to the information a seller provides to a potential buyer about the property being sold.

Disclosures are required by law in most states and are intended to inform the buyer about any known issues or defects with the property.

Depending on your state’s laws, you may be required to disclose known issues about the property’s condition, even if you’re selling as-is. Work with your agent put together disclosures.

Inspections

Most buyers will want to have inspections done, even those purchasing as-is. Buyers want to identify:

  • Major issues with the property.
  • Estimated repair costs.
  • A plan for necessary renovations.

Be aware inspections can be used as a negotiating power.

Even in an as-is sale, if an inspection reveals serious issues that were not initially disclosed or apparent, the buyer may have room to renegotiate the price or terms of the sale or decide to walk away from the deal altogether.

Executing the Sale: Selling a House After Death of Parent

When the property is ready, it’s time to put it on the market. You’ll want to work closely with your real estate agent during this stage.

If you need to find a local real estate agent with experience in estate sales, start your search with FastExpert.

Marketing

A seasoned agent will know how to market the house. The objective is to attract as many potential buyers as possible. Your marketing strategy includes:

  • Staging
  • Professional photos.
  • Marketing collateral.
  • Listing price.
  • Online listings.
  • Digital and print advertising.

Offers and Negotiation

When offers start coming in, negotiating is key. While the highest offer might be tempting, it’s important to consider all aspects of an offer, including the buyer’s financing, contingencies (like the need to sell their current home), requested repairs, and the proposed closing date.

Leverage your agent’s experience throughout the negotiating process. They will help you weigh the pros and cons of each offer and negotiate the best terms for your sale.

Closing the Sale

The final step is to close the sale. This involves completing all agreed-upon repairs, the buyer’s final walk-through, and then the actual closing, where ownership of the property is transferred to the buyer.

At closing, buyers, sellers, and their representatives execute the necessary documentation. Then the buyer pays the purchase price. At this point, any debts attached to the property are paid off so that a clear title can be handed over to the buyer.

Managing Emotional Aspects

While the practicalities of selling a house after the death of a parent are undoubtedly complex, the emotional aspects can be equally challenging, if not more so. Dealing with a loved one’s property is deeply personal and can stir up many emotions.

Be sure to acknowledge the toll on yourself and your family. You’re not just selling a property. This process often includes letting go of a place filled with memories and ties to your parent. Feelings of grief, sadness, and even guilt are normal.

Engage Your Support Systems

Reach out to friends or family members who can lend a sympathetic ear, offer helpful advice, or even assist with some tasks. Professional help, such as grief counselors or therapists, can also provide invaluable support during this time, offering strategies to manage grief and loss effectively.

Relationships with Family Members

When selling a parent’s house, other family members are often involved, whether that’s aunts and uncles, siblings, grandchildren, or distant relatives.

Good communication is critical when managing relationships with family members. You’ll have to navigate different opinions and emotional attachments. Be open and respectful during each step of the process.

If a conflict arises, consider getting help from a neutral third party, such as a mediator. A third party can create a buffer and protect your relationships with family members. Be compassionate, and remember that everyone deals with grief in their own way.

Choose the Right Partner with FastExpert

Selling your parent’s house is difficult and involves legal, financial, and emotional matters. While the process is undoubtedly challenging, navigating it successfully and respectfully is possible. The primary goal is not simply to sell the property, but to do so in a way that respects your parent’s legacy, addresses your family’s needs, and supports your emotional well-being.

Throughout this journey, remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Professionals such as real estate agents, estate attorneys, tax advisors, or grief counselors can provide invaluable support and guidance. Lean on your personal support systems—family, friends, and other loved ones can offer emotional support and practical assistance.

With FastExpert, finding the best professional to guide you through this process is now the easy part. FastExpert allows you to read reviews on local agents, giving you a comprehensive view of their experience, expertise, and reputation.

Start your search with FastExpert now. Let us be your ally in finding a competent and compassionate real estate professional who understands your unique situation and will ensure a smooth and successful transaction.

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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