After someone dies, the family and close relatives must settle her estate. This involves distributing assets, which often includes transferring title to the decedent’s house or other real property. The executor, or personal representative, handles the administrative duties and must notify the creditors and beneficiaries of the deceased and generally work with the probate court to facilitate the distribution of the estate.
An executor must have authority to act in his capacity. The first step when probating an estate is to file the proper forms and motions with the probate court. The court issues letters testamentary to the executor, which grant him authority to act in that capacity. Letters testamentary allow the executor to stand in the place of the deceased for matters such as filing taxes and transferring title to the deceased’s assets.
State probate laws vary with regard to how an executor may transfer title to a home to the beneficiaries. The executor may need to draw up a new deed naming the beneficiaries as the “grantees,” or new owners. A new deed is not always required. In California, for example, the executor needs to file certain notices with the tax assessor in the county where the property is located. Forms include a death notice, a preliminary change of ownership report and a copy of the death certificate.
Transferring title generally occurs on the back-end of probate. Prior to distributing assets, the executor must complete other tasks, such as an inventory of the deceased estate. Additionally, the executor must pay all valid claims of the estate. Depending on the size and nature of the deceased’s estate, the process could take several months to complete.
Other rules may govern the transfer of property. For example, the land may transfer by operation of law if the deed is a transfer on death deed naming the siblings as the beneficiaries. If the title transfers by operation of law, the executor does not need to do anything. The deceased's estate plan may also control who gets the property. If the deceased died without a will, for example, the state’s intestate succession laws mandate who gets title the property – typically, it goes to the surviving spouse. Readers should seek independent legal advice before proceeding.