When Decisions Matter.


Dead Men Sell No Real Estate

When someone dies, any real estate that person owned becomes subject to administration in that person’s estate. As a general rule the person named in the Decedent’s Will as Executor, or if the Decedent left no will the person entitled to act as Administrator of the Decedent’s Estate under Pennsylvania Law, must go to the Court to obtain authority to act for the estate. That person can be referred to as a personal representative. That process is called Probate.

If no one has taken this step, no one has authority to act for the estate, and any documents executed after the Decedent’s death appearing to take action with respect to real estate owned by the Decedent at the time of his or her death are void and ineffective. This applies to an Agreement listing the real estate for sale, a Sales Agreement, a Seller’s Disclosure, and other such documents. Therefore anyone wishing to purchase or take any other action with respect to real estate last titled to the name of the deceased person must exercise caution and obtain proof that the person so acting for the property owner has authority. That proof is generally in the form of what is called a “Short Certificate.” A Short Certificate is a document which the personal representative receives from an officer of the Court, the Register of Wills, stating the legal authority of the personal representative.

If real estate is owned by a Decedent at the time of his or her death with one or more other persons as “joint tenants with right of survivorship”, there is no need for Probate. The surviving joint owner or owners have the right to sell or take other actions with respect to the real estate without obtaining any probate authority from the Court. Real Estate owned as “Husband and Wife” carries such right of survivorship. Although Probate may not be required there may still be an estate or an Inheritance Tax Lien imposed upon the real estate requiring payment before the real estate can be transferred free and clear. (See Understanding Inheritance Tax Liens on Real Estate)

If someone signs an Agreement to sell or otherwise deal with real estate, but dies before Settlement or completion of such other action respecting the real estate, the Agreement will probably be valid and enforceable, but the Probate process will still be required to complete the transaction.

For all of these reasons buyers and sellers need to carefully navigate buying and selling real estate last titled in the name of a deceased person. The real estate and estate attorneys at Stock and Leader are here to help with that process.

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