Can an executor of a will sell property without all beneficiaries approving?
A huge part of an executor’s responsibilities involves the sale of property after a loved one has passed away. A lot of questions commonly arise regarding probate property matters: can the executor of a will sell property without all the beneficiaries approving first? How much say does the executor have over the estate? What can beneficiaries do if they feel an estate is not being managed correctly? Our experts explain in a brief guide below.
The death of a loved one can be a stressful and complicated time. Dealing with the probate process can be difficult, and in some cases will cause rifts among families and friends. A deceased person's estate usually contains a combination of sentimental and financial possessions, which can be a source of conflict. In particular, money matters often cause friction, and there can be many financial considerations that result from selling a deceased person's property.
This is why it is not only vitally important to have an up-to-date will in place before you die, but also for executors to understand their duty and recognise what responsibilities fall under their remit. They will be responsible for selling property that the deceased person owned, and should thoroughly understand their legal authority to manage the estate in case conflict should arise.
In this guide, we explain what happens if certain beneficiaries do not approve of the property sale, whether executors can decide the property value, and explain where the executor stands from a legal perspective on any other potential disputes that might arise.
If you have any questions we have not answered, our expert wills, trusts and probate solicitors are happy to speak to you and provide the legal services you need. You can contact us by completing the enquiry form below or by calling 0151 666 9090.
What is an executor of a will?
An executor is arguably the central figure of the probate process. They are the individuals who are chosen to administer the estate of the deceased. Their duties include registering the death, sorting funeral arrangements, valuing the estate, and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. This usually means they will sell property owned by the deceased, and potentially other assets of high value that are not assigned as gifts to particular beneficiaries.
Usually, family and/or friends are chosen to be an executor, and it is often advisable to choose more than one. People may also appoint professional executors, like a solicitor. The role is important, and there is often a lot of work involved, so it can be useful to choose a professional executor whose experience and thorough knowledge of the legal process can make probate and estate administration significantly easier.
Executors are required to follow all of the directions that the deceased provide in their will. They should always act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. If you have concerns about choosing an executor, or would prefer that these responsibilities be handled by a professional executor rather than a friend or family member, contact us to discuss our services. As well as acting in this capacity, we can help you to apply for a grant of probate, or provide help and advice when selling probate property.
What are beneficiaries?
Beneficiaries are the individuals who inherit the money, property, possessions, and other estate assets after a person dies. The possessions left by the person who has passed away are required to be distributed to the beneficiaries according to the specific provisions of the will.
Beneficiaries must be named in the will in order to inherit anything from the estate. If there is no valid will, beneficiaries may inherit under the intestacy rules. The intestacy rules specify that estates with no will are inherited automatically by the surviving spouse, or if the deceased was unmarried, to any children or grandchildren.
Can an executor sell property without approval from beneficiaries?
In short, yes. Executors can sell property without the approval of all beneficiaries, as their duty is to always act in the best interests of the estate and follow the instructions set out in the will.
There are occasions on which beneficiaries may disagree with the sale of the property, the choice of buyer or the price. However, if it is written in the will that the property should be sold, and it is therefore in the best interests of the estate, it is the executors’ duty to sell the property.
If there are no specific instructions in the will relating to the property, executors should act reasonably and always in the best interests of the estate. This includes obtaining a fair market value for the property and not selling it at a significantly lower price. Selling the property at a discounted price could see the executor liable for the difference, as it could be argued they have denied the beneficiaries of a portion of their inheritance.
If there is a disagreement over the sale of the property between beneficiaries, the executor may need to seek legal advice to ensure they are acting in accordance with their duties.
In addition to this, the sale of the property can be dependent on how it was by owned the deceased. A property can be held in three ways:
- In the deceased’s sole name.
- As joint tenants with another person.
- As tenants in common with another person.
Each of these is viewed differently in the eyes of the law and must be managed accordingly.
Property owned solely by the deceased
If the property was owned wholly by the deceased, the sales process can be relatively simple. Selling the property will require a Grant of Probate which confirms the executor’s legal authority to handle the estate’s affairs.
Property owned as joint tenants
Property owned by more than one person as joint tenants will be passed onto the surviving owner or owners. This is known as the “right of survivorship”. The executor will not have the remit to sell this property, as it will not fall under the deceased’s estate. The surviving joint owners will become the sole owners of the property, and can do whatever they wish to do with it. This normally occurs when a spouse or civil partner passes away, and results in the property passing automatically to the surviving co-owner.
Probate property owned as tenants in common
Properties owned as tenants in common can be a little more complicated when it comes to probate. This is because the deceased will have owned a share of the property, and their share will pass in accordance with the will. A potential sale will require all of the surviving tenants to agree. The executor can consult with the surviving owner and the beneficiaries to decide on the best way forward.
If the deceased’s share of the property is transferred to a beneficiary, that person owns that share of the property and is free to do as they wish with it.
Can an executor set a sale price without all beneficiaries agreeing?
The sale price is often the biggest point of contention between executors and beneficiaries. As with the rest of the estate, the executor has the overall authority when agreeing on a value for the property.
Again, however, the executor must always act in the best interests of the estate, and if it can be argued that the sale price was below market value, they could be accused of failing to fulfil their duty and a claim could be filed against them.
Before an executor applies for grant of probate and begins to manage the estate, they must value the estate and determine whether or not there is Inheritance Tax to pay. Part of this process will be to establish the value of any property jointly or solely owned by the deceased. As such, the executor should have a reasonable idea of the value of the property before they put it onto the market.
It is always worthwhile seeking legal advice if you believe a dispute could arise between executors and beneficiaries regarding the price of the property.
How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?
At Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated wills and probate solicitors who are ready to help you resolve your query or issue relating to this area of the law as quickly and effectively as possible.
Distributing the deceased’s estate is one of the most important tasks an Executor has. Part of that is understanding the remit Executors have when it comes to agreeing to sell the property. Executors must always act in the best interests of the Estate, even if some Beneficiaries disagree amongst themselves.
Our probate solicitors have a wealth of experience in helping Executors administer an estate after a death, and can help you deal with any potential legal issues along the way. They can assist you in this complex area of law and ensure you have peace of mind when it comes to your loved one’s estate.