What Is a Probate Sale?

By John Cromwell

When a person passes away, his property is generally placed into an estate and goes through probate. Probate is a process in which a court assesses the validity of a will, appoints someone to oversee the management of the estate, ensures the deceased person’s debts are paid, and makes sure all remaining estate property goes to the proper beneficiaries of the deceased. Part of that process may require the sale of assets that are in the probate estate.

Why Have a Sale

There are several reasons why a probate sale may be appropriate. If the deceased left a lot of debt, the estate may lack the cash to settle those obligations. As a result, the executor may have to sell property to obtain the necessary cash. In addition, the deceased’s beneficiaries may prefer the property is sold instead of receiving the actual asset. Or, the deceased’s will may require the property to be sold. Finally, if the deceased left no will, the probate court may require the estate administrator to sell the property in order to make distribution of the assets easier.

What Can Be Sold

What probate assets can be sold is an important question when the estate has a lot of debt and a will gives specific assets to named beneficiaries. While state law generally determines which assets should be sold first to settle debts, generally the last group of assets that can be sold are any specific gifts made to specific people, for example, a decedent's engagement ring left to her daughter. The second to last group of assets that can be sold are gifts paid from a specific source, such as if the decedent left an heir $50,000 from a named bank account. Any gift that is generally described and does not come from a specific source, such as $100,000 to an heir, is the next asset type used to settle debts. All other assets, which are those that are not specifically referenced in the will, should be sold first to settle any debts.

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Sale Process

To initiate a probate sale, generally the administrator of the estate has to petition the probate court for permission. The administrator must present the court with an inventory of the estate’s assets, along with the appraised value of each asset. If the court agrees that the sale is necessary, the court will allow the administrator to start the sale process. Once an offer is received, the sale is conditioned on the approval of the probate court. Prior to the hearing regarding the offer, the administrator generally must publish an ad, stating what is being sold, when the hearing is being held and the value of the current offer. Disclosure of real estate property includes the property's condition, any entailed encumbrances, appraisal, price, interest rate and tax certification, among other requirements. Other prospective buyers can attend the hearing, bid on the property or challenge the sale in court. The court will approve the sale of the property to the highest bidder.

Downside of Probate Sales

For the administrator and estate, executing a probate sale can be expensive and time consuming, and beneficiaries could be dissatisfied with the result of the sale, leaving the administrator open to a lawsuit. For the buyer, a probate sale offers an opportunity to get a good asset for a low price.

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Administrator Responsibilities for Estate Sales Without a Will


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How to End Probate

When a person dies, his estate falls into probate. A probate court oversees the distribution of the estate assets, with or without a will. If no estate executor is named in a will, the probate court appoints an estate administrator, such as the surviving spouse. Probate can take several months or even years to close. The best way for an estate executor or administrator to end probate is to provide the court with all the documentation needed, as soon as possible.

What Kinds of Things Can Be Assessed in a Probate With No Will?

When a person dies intestate, without a will, the probate court oversees the estate administrator and the division of assets. The court gives priority to the surviving spouse to serve as estate administrator, absent any objections from other heirs. The probate court requires the estate administrator to compile a list of probate inventory to be distributed through the probate proceedings. The estate assets will be distributed pursuant to your state's laws on intestate succession -- when there is no will, the law governs the line of descendants to receive inheritances.

What Happens if No One Moves to Settle an Estate?

Once a person dies, a loved one usually files a petition in probate court to start proceedings to settle the estate. Estate settlement involves appointing a person to manage the estate -- an executor if there's a will, an administrator otherwise -- including final bill payment and distribution of the deceased's property. If no one files for estate proceedings in court, what happens next depends on the type of property the deceased, known as the decedent, owned, whether he had debts and state law.

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