DANGER! Executors Dealing with Property Read This

When someone dies and leaves a property behind there are all sorts of dangers lurking for the innocent executor.  This page concentrates on people’s homes rather than rental properties.

See also What to do when someone dies.

Who is responsible for a property after death?

The Executor (when there’s a Will) or the Administrator (when there’s no Will). This means that if anything happens to the property after the owner dies, they are responsible for resolving the issue. A friend of mine was named as executor, but decided to hand the work over to a solicitor.  The next day, the property burnt down, still uninsured, so the solicitor had to pay to rebuild it – narrow escape for my friend!

Who owns a property when the owner dies?

In the case of a jointly owned property, death of one owner commonly means it passes on to the other owner as long as they are and avoids probate (at least on the property). In other cases, the property or the share owned by the deceased if it is tenants in common goes to whomever it was bequeathed to in a will, or it becomes part of the estate. (Under joint tenancy, both partners jointly own the whole property, while with tenants-in-common each own a specified share. If couples want to go into more detail beyond the percentages of what they own in the property, they can do this using a trust deed or they can set this out in their will.) Sometimes the property will be owned by a Trust.
Also, watch out for any form of Home Income Plan or mortgage as interest will continue to be due in most cases, and there may penalties for probate being slow.  Much can be discovered by obtaining a copy of the Land Registry documents – the page it opens at is well worth a read, and save me much typing!

Clearly, if you can find the Will beforehand, at least where it is kept, and who the executor are, this could save you from stepping on someone else’s toes or landing yourself with the job if there is no Will.  Similarly, before taking any steps to organise a funeral, try to find the Will and if there may be a funeral plan, find the paperwork or click the link. Relatives should be informed as they may know something you are unaware of.

  1. Make sure the building and any vehicles are secure and nothing (other than burglar alarms and maybe a bedroom light is left on.
  2. Arrange care for any pets.
  3. Find out who the insurance company dealing with the property buildings and contents may be and advise them at the earliest possible moment. They will probably limit cover and insist on certain precautions being taken such as turning the electricity off, draining down water systems, changing locks etc.   They will also limit or cancel cover, particularly on contents.  If there is no insurance in place, you could be personally liable if the property burns down.  Vehicle insurance should be checked, and vehicles removed from the road.  If that isn’t possible, they need to stay taxed and insured. You can get unoccupied buildings cover quickly here.  More details of how unoccupied property insurance works here.
  4. It is prudent to photograph the contents and remove any valuable items to safe storage.   Ideally to do this with an independent witness who signs the list of items removed, just in case there is a dispute later on.
  5. At the same time, collect as much paperwork as you can (and be very careful what you destroy) – cancel paper deliveries, milk, groceries etc.
  6. Whether the insurance company insists or not, it is generally wise to change the locks as you have no idea who has keys, but bear in mind that someone will need to go into and check the property at least every couple of weeks. So organise someone to do that if you are not local.
  7. If the property is in the sole name of the deceased, or if it was owned as tenants in common (shares) you will not be able to sell it until probate has been granted, which at the moment is taking a lot longer than expected.  So marketing it prematurely is probably going to help no one.  When it is time, you can get a rough idea of the value on www.Zoopla.co.uk so if you are unlucky enough to get an unscrupulous estate agent, at least you will have some idea of the value.  I would always suggest getting 3 valuations, and if the estate is likely to be contentious, maybe pay for a valuation by a RICS qualified agent – especially if it is being sold to anyone know to the family.
  8. Many people do up the property for sale, with a view to getting a better price for the beneficiaries after costs – but remember that the difference between the value at the date of death and the value on sale attracts Capital Gains Tax.
  9. Some people have storage units too, and look out for things in garages that may not be an obvious part of the property. Neighbours will often know.
  10. If appropriate, tell neighbours, ask them to keep an eye on the property and phone you if their are any concerns.
  11. Mailing Preference Service to stop commercial mail FREEPOST 29 LON20771  London W1E 0ZT  MPS Registration Line: 0845 703 4599 Email: mps@dma.org.uk Website: www.mpsonline.org.uk.
  12. Post office redirection. Ideal if you are not local.


Quick Sale.   

Executors Sales Pitfalls

Probate Property Insurance.

Alternative Empty Property Insurance


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