A Law Career

How Probate Treats The Family Home

by Ruby Mckinney

For many people, real estate comprises the bulk of an estate. For those charged with dealing with the estate of a loved one, the dispensing of that real estate can be tricky. It can be confusing if the will states that your deceased parent has left you with the responsibility of being the executor, you may be concerned about how to properly and fairly divide up the family home. Read on to learn more about how probate deals with the family home when a loved one passes away.

The Estate

When one hears the word estate, you might picture a grand home on rolling hills, but when discussing probate the word "estate" simply means all the property (and debt) that a deceased person has left behind. It can be art, jewelry, cars, bank accounts and even cash. Most property can be divided fairly, but the family home can be a little more complicated to divvy up.

Executor Responsibilities for Real Estate

Once the will has been filed in probate court in your county, the executor must get to work on a variety of jobs, including those that concern any real estate holdings. Below are some of the real estate-related tasks:

  • Pay property taxes as they are due.
  • Continue to pay any utility bills and cancel the services that are no longer needed. For example, you will likely want to keep the water and electricity on to protect the contents of the home against heat and cold, but you probably can cut the cable television.
  • Pay the mortgage or home equity loans.
  • Pay any storage or condominium dues and fees.
  • Keep the homeowners, flood and hurricane insurance policies current.
  • Arrange for and pay for any clean-out projects, if the home is being sold.
  • Pay for any needed maintenance.
  • Arrange and pay for an appraisal of the home.

At the Completion of Probate

Once the will has passed through probate, your primary responsibility is to divide the property. With the appraised value in hand, you can begin to view the value of the home as part of the estate, which can help you to create a more fair division. For example, if one sibling wants the home and is willing to give up other property, a fair trade can be calculated. Other choices include:

  • Sell the home and divide the proceeds. It should be noted that in some states the home may be put on the market before probate is complete. Discuss this option with your probate attorney.
  • Allow one sibling to buy the other out with cash or by taking out a loan with the home as collateral.

The family home is not just another piece of real estate or property, it can mean more to the survivors. Tread carefully when making decisions and be sure to include your siblings in the process throughout the probate period. Count on your probate attorney to guide you through this sometimes emotionally-charged process with eye towards fairness and honoring your loved one.