When Decisions Matter.


Dead People Cannot Sell Real Estate

If you are selling property, the Stock and Leader Real Estate team wants to inform you about an important issue that may arise when you work on selling real estate: dead people cannot sell real estate.  Where a deceased person had an interest in real estate, there are a couple of items that should be reviewed prior to selling that real estate. If the documents used to sell property in this situation are not executed properly, there may not be an effective transfer of ownership.

When an estate has been opened for the deceased person, the agreement of sale and related documents must be signed by the individual(s) with the authority to sign (i.e. the executor if the deceased person left a will, or an administrator if the deceased person died without a will). When the estate is opened (or probated), the Register of Wills will issue the executor or administrator, as the case may be, a document called a “short certificate.”  The short certificate is evidence that the person signing the documents has the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate and with that authority, the executor or administrator can sign any documents needed to sell and convey real estate.

In most cases, any document that contains the genuine signature of the deceased individual will be effective and is generally binding on the deceased’s heirs, beneficiaries, successors and assigns, which includes the deceased’s estate.

If property is owned by a husband and wife or if it is titled as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship,” upon the deceased person’s death, title to the property automatically passes to the surviving spouse or owner.  Where the surviving spouse or owner takes sole title upon death, the survivor is the only person required to execute documents to sell real estate.  However, if the property is held as “tenants in common,” the surviving owner does not have the authority to sign for the deceased person and only the executor or administrator has the authority to sign on behalf of the estate.

Sellers, please pay close attention to your agreements and remember: dead people cannot sell real estate. As always, the attorneys at Stock and Leader can help you navigate these issues. Contact a member of the Stock and Leader Real Estate or the Estate team for further guidance.

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