What Happens When Someone Selling a Property Dies

08 November 2016

By Probate Conveyancing Solicitor Victoria Leech

When the owner of a property dies part way through the selling process, there are a number of different circumstances which can apply in England & Wales.

Death Prior to Exchange of Contracts

More than One Owner

If the deceased person owned a property with someone else as Joint Tenant – so each owner holds the Legal Title and a 100% share of the property, then the co-owner can still sell the property.

On the death of one of the owners the remainder still own the Legal Title and 100% share of the property. The Land Registry should be sent a copy of the death certificate in order to amend the registered Title. For unregistered titles, simply place the death certificate with the Deeds.

If the deceased owned a property with someone else as a Tenant in Common – so all owners hold the Legal Title but the property’s equity (value) was held in shares, then the co-owner(s) can still sell the property.

That said, the Land Registry will not let one co-owner sell on their own share of the property when the other has died – in order to protect the deceased co-owner’s share. The surviving co-owner will need to appoint another person to sell the property and both are under a duty to pay correct amount of money from the sale to the deceased’s co-owner’s Estate.

If there is more than one co-owner remaining on the Title then there is no need to appoint anyone else, but the co-owners will still be under a duty to pay the correct amount of money to the deceased’s Estate.

Deceased was the Sole Owner

If the deceased was the sole owner of the property, then a Grant of Probate / Letters of Administration needs to be obtained to sell the property. The Grant is the document that is issued by the Probate Registry. The document confirms your right to administer the deceased’s Estate.

Death of a Seller after Exchange of Contracts

If contracts have been exchanged already and a seller has died afterwards then this does not invalidate the contract. There is still a contractual obligation to complete the sale.

More than One Owner

If there is more than one owner then the process referred to in “More than one owner” above applies and the surviving co-owner(s) can complete the sale.

Deceased was the Sole Owner

If the seller was the sole owner then you will need to obtain a Grant of Probate / Administration of Letters (Grant) to complete the sale of the property.

A delay in obtaining the Grant can mean that the sale does not complete on the day that the contract says it should. As a result the terms of the contract have been breached. This means that compensation or damages will be payable to the purchaser.

A buyer can also claim for losses on a related sale – for example a buyer may be forced to complete the sale of their own property without being able to complete on the purchase. If there is a pending sale then a request should be made to the Probate Registry to speed up the process of issuing the Grant.

The other alternative is for you to enter into negotiations with the buyers who will hopefully be somewhat sympathetic given the circumstances.

Completion

More than One Owner

For properties that were held as Joint Tenants – all of the net proceeds of sale go to the surviving co-owner.

For properties that were held as Tenants in Common – the net proceeds of sale are divided in accordance with how the shares in the property were held. The deceased’s share is paid into their Estate.

Deceased was the Sole Owner

For properties where the deceased was the sole owner – 100% of the net proceeds of sale are paid into the deceased’s Estate.

At Co-op Legal Services our Probate team includes over 170 staff of Probate Solicitors, Lawyers, Case Handlers, Advisors and our national team of Probate Consultants. We are the largest provider of Probate and Estate Administration services in England and Wales, trusted to deal with over £1.3 billion in Estates annually.

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