Are you the personal representative or executor of an estate that includes real estate? If so, you have a big responsibility not only to heirs and beneficiaries but also to the deceased owner. What should you do to ensure you fulfill these responsibilities? Here are a few key things to do as executor for that real estate.
1. Start Probate. If you haven't done so already, contact an attorney and get the probate process begun. Anything in the estate not covered by other beneficiary designations must generally go through probate before it can be sold or distributed. Because real estate is usually a big part of an estate and it may take time to sell, get started early. This also helps empower you to make decisions about the property.
2. Take Physical Control. After the passing of a loved one, family and friends may want mementos. This is understandable, but it shouldn't be allowed. The contents of the house are part of the estate and must be handled by the executor in order to ensure that everyone — from heirs to creditors — is treated fairly. Many executors change the locks to ensure that they know what's going on at the house.
3. Make Detailed Inventory. Do a thorough inventory of everything in the house and on the property. Many of these items should be valued to determine how to divide up assets according to the will or according to state inheritance law. Make special note of any contents directly addressed by the will or estate documents.
4. Maintain the Property. The executor's job, for however long probate lasts, is to maintain estate property. As you would with your own real estate, you would need to pay utility bills, obtain insurance, complete regular maintenance and repairs, and secure the property. Should you make alterations to the property? Consult with your attorney before deciding if any large expenditures would be in the best interests of the estate.
5. Sell or Transfer the Property. If the property will be sold, you'll likely contract with a probate real estate agent to do so. Many states also require that you or your attorney get approval from the probate court before finalizing a sale. If selling to an heir, your attorney will also advise you on how to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Distributing the property to an heir usually occurs once probate has been completed.
Do you need help with any of these steps of being an executor for real estate? Start by meeting with an experienced probate lawyer in your state. They will help you complete all the required tasks and successfully complete this final task for your deceased loved one.