Probate property – delays in dealing with assets can be costly

I do a fairly regular trawl (not troll) through the news and came across this article on property sales, which mentioned selling probate property on mortgagefinancegazette.com.

At times our conveyancing system seems almost designed to produce conflict, so it’s unsurprising that a chain-free purchase is more appetising to many prospective buyers. I suspect that when the writer says ‘the amount of time it takes to sell a chain free property’ he means the amount of time to receive an acceptable offer, though it usually much quicker to sell a probate property, provided the buyer is also chain-free and/or doesn’t need a mortgage. I mention the writer’s choice of words because many in the industry encourage people to view a property as sold when an offer is accepted. Those of you who have bought and sold property in England and Wales before will know that is not the case; until contracts have been exchanged anyone can pull out without fear of any penalty whatsoever, except for any professional fees or searches they’ve commissioned.

Why do I mention this? Well because the difference between an accepted offer and exchange of contracts is important for executors.

By the time the property is marketed, the executors should already have considered whether it’s a good idea to have changed the locks, to remove valuable property or items left to specific beneficiaries, to have thought about making the property more secure to deter squatters, turned off the gas, made provision to stop pipes freezing, informed the insurance company etc etc etc…. It’s also likely they will have thought about the value. One of the first steps in the probate process is to get an accurate picture of the value of the estate and pay any tax due.

However the recent past has shown that property prices can change quite dramatically. Imagine having had been appointed executor at Christmas at the end of 2006 where a house was included in the estate. A slow probate service could have meant the difference between marketing the property in a buoyant housing market and trying to flog it whilst people were queuing round the block to get their money out of the bank.

No-one can predict the future and solicitors are neither best placed or qualified (except for a few) to advise on investments and management of assets. However an efficient service and timely advice can give you the opportunity to review what to do with estate assets earlier. Sometimes that review may not be focussed on the value of that asset – there are many things which need to be considered in the administration of an estate and many different circumstances people find themselves in.

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