Many parents choose to will their property equally to all their children, leaving the kids to decide how to divide everything up. If part of that inheritance is the family home or other real estate, the best way to divide the asset is to sell it and split up the cash. But selling inheritance property presents special logistical, practical and emotional challenges. Having a plan and enlisting professional help will allow the best outcome for everyone involved.
Understanding the Probate Process
Before you sell property you inherit, the estate must go through probate. Most states allow for summary probate, an expedited process that doesn’t take a lot of time or require legal counsel, but that option is available only for small estates ranging in value from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars. Many estates that include real estate and other assets will exceed this threshold, meaning you’ll have to wait for the regular probate process to conclude before you can put the property on the market.
Once the estate goes through probate, the court gives the executor of the will the authority to act to distribute the estate’s assets and settle the estate’s debts. If you’re the executor and you have siblings who share in the inheritance of the property, you’ll need the permission of your siblings and the courts to sell.
Agreeing to Sell
If everyone involved in the inheritance agrees the property should be sold, the executor can petition the court to allow the sale and proceed from there. Trouble occurs when one or more siblings wants to sell and the others want to keep the property. In that case, you’re going to have to negotiate.
The sibling who wants to retain the property can buy out the other siblings’ interest in the property. He might have to take out a loan to do so. Other times, selling the property is the only option to settle debts of the estate. In this case, the courts may overrule the dissenting sibling.
If you’re having trouble coming to an agreement, a family mediator may be able to help broker one. And you should have an estate lawyer represent you to avoid costly legal mistakes.
Preparing to Sell
A home that belonged to an elderly parent or other relative may need repairs and updating before you can put it on the market. You’ll need to clean out your relative's belongings. Consider hiring an inspector to spot potential problems and recommend repairs.
If you don’t live nearby, a local real estate agent can assess the property for you and suggest changes that will make the home more marketable, such as updating the kitchen or adding landscaping. You also have the option of selling the home “as is,” though in this case you may have to accept a lower price, especially if the house needs extensive cleaning or repair.
Exploring Inheritance Tax Considerations
When you sell property you’ve inherited, your tax basis for the property is the home’s value on the day the person who willed it to you died. The difference between that value and the amount you realize from the sale is the gain on which you owe taxes. When several siblings inherit equal shares in a property, they divide the gain equally, and each claim that share on their taxes.
For example, if the home was worth $300,000 when Mom died and you sell for $345,000 and three siblings inherit, each claims a $15,000 gain. If you sell for the value of the home or less, you don’t have a gain to report.
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.