My widowed mother died recently and as executor I am responsible for selling her house. How do I go about this?
ASK THE EXPERT
A. The first thing you need to do is to have the property valued, since your late mother’s entire estate will have to be assessed for inheritance tax. Most estate agents will happily provide a formal written valuation of this kind for a small fee, which may either be waived on the understanding that in due course they will be instructed to handle the sale, or deducted from their commission if and when that sale is achieved.
Obviously, if for some reason you choose to get more than one valuation, then it is likely that you will end up paying at least one fee upfront. However, you are entitled to be reimbursed by the estate for any such expenses you incur while discharging your duties as executor.
As for the actual contents of the house, these also need to be valued for inheritance tax purposes – although in the case of ordinary household goods and personal possessions, you can easily do this yourself by providing a lump sum figure. This need only reflect their current market value, not their price when new. However, with items of any real value – for example, anything over £500, such as jewellery and so forth –- it is advisable to have a professional valuation.
You will also need to apply to the court for a grant of probate – the legal authority you must obtain before you can begin administering the estate. Probate will only finally be granted, however, once any tax liability has been paid in full.
Once you have been granted probate, you are then free to put the house on the market and sell it in the usual way (always remembering, of course, that as executor you are legally bound to get the best possible price on behalf of any beneficiaries), as well as distributing the contents in accordance with your mother’s will, or disposing of them as appropriate.
If time is critical, the law does actually allow you to put the house on the market before probate is formally granted. However, this must be in place before contracts can finally be exchanged. In such a case, you should ensure that any prospective buyers are made fully aware of the situation.