Inheriting a house doesn’t just put a new property in your possession. It also may bring along a few headaches.
If you’re due to inherit a home after the death of a partner, parent or relative, be prepared for what could be a complicated and lengthy process, whether you plan to sell the property or take residency there yourself. But knowing what to expect before or immediately after your loved one’s passing can help ease this transition.
First, whether you’re due to inherit the property of a person who dies without a will or trust, or a beneficiary named in the late person’s will or trust to receive all or part of the estate property, your goal is to avoid probate – the legal process establishing validity of a will, which can take many months. The home should automatically pass to you without probate if you’re already listed on the deed as a joint owner, if you have joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship (typically the case for surviving spouses), or if the property has been legally given away as a gift to you prior to the death.
When it comes to taxes owed on an inherited property, the good news is that estates valued at less than $5.34 million currently don’t have to pay federal estate taxes; however, several states require that state estate taxes and inheritance taxes be paid (consult an accountant or tax attorney for details).
In the case of surviving children, usually all are named as heirs to the property, which will require a selling of the home to pay off all the heirs. James Boyd, a real estate broker with Orange County Probate-Realtors in Orange, California, adds that if all parties agree, the home can be rented or one of the heirs can buy out the others.
“There are also certain situations where the real estate may have to be sold to satisfy creditors of the estate,” says Shirley M. Diefenbach, attorney/partner with Walker Lambe Rhudy Costley and Gill in Durham, North Carolina. “On the other hand, it may be advisable to retain the (home) rather than sell it if there is an existing mortgage on the house and the heir or beneficiary has poor credit.”
Diefenbach says inheriting a home that still has an unpaid mortgage attached to it can get tricky. Many mortgages include a “due on sale” clause that requires the full payment of the loan’s outstanding balance before the property can be transferred. However, when relatives inherit certain types of real estate, the Garn-St. Germain Act stipulates that the lender cannot force them to sell and must maintain the terms of the loan, even if the beneficiary would not have qualified for it originally. Under certain circumstances, this act permits ownership of real estate in a trust without activating the due-on-sale clause. Another option for heirs who want to keep the home is to refinance into a new mortgage, if they qualify.
For those determined to sell the home, expect the matter to take more work and time than you might expect. Once listed for sale, the inherited residence may or may not take longer than average to sell.
“We’ve had (inherited) properties sell quickly while other sit on the market for a long time. It really comes down to the seller and the price point they set relative to the market,” says Christopher Dziak, attorney with Findlay and Dziak, LLC, Albuquerque, N.M.
Bijan Golkar, CEO of FPC Investment Advisory in San Francisco, says finding a buyer can take longer if the person selling the home has limited knowledge of the property.
“I have found that buyers in this case will do a lot more inspections of the property, and you might not get as many offers,” says Golkar.
In general, many inherited homes take longer to sell when the deceased was elderly and the home was neglected or outdated.
“It’s always best to hire a qualified, experienced real estate agent, who can better advise as to how to optimize the sale,” Diefenbach says.