How to sell a house after your spouse dies
Selling a house after a spouse dies is similar to if you had done it together, and you still use the same purchase agreements. The difference is that you will need to have the title put solely in your name before putting the home on the market.
You definitely will not have to sell your house after your spouse’s death all alone. You are certain to have trusted family members and friends eager to assist you in selling your home. Plus, aligning yourself with the right Realtor® will be a great help to you as well.
To begin the process of selling a home after a spouse’s death, you will want to learn the current value of the property. Contact a local Realtor® and ask them to perform a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) for the property. This CMA will detail similar homes that have recently sold nearby your subject property and will be a good starting point to determine value. You may also want to ask your Realtor® for a few examples of what improvements might make sense in raising the value of the property in preparing it for sale.
If you are not quite ready to place the home on the market after your spouse’s death, but would like to remain informed about the values of the surrounding neighborhood homes, our FREE home value estimator tool will be a great resource for you.
When you are ready to sell your house, you may also want to do pre-listing inspections such as a professional Home Inspection as well as a Termite, Wood Destroying Pest Inspection. These inspections should uncover problem areas that the buyer’s inspectors will reveal in the near future anyway, allowing you to make corrections before they become a bigger issue. By completing these inspections and by considering the advice of your Realtor®, you should have a much more clear idea of how to proceed to get the home sold.
Brenda Geiger, a Carlsbad California Estate, Business and Elder Law Attorney says “I strongly suggest a consultation with a qualified trust and estates attorney to see what needs to be done on title to the property before selling it. I would also get a fair market value appraisal of the property as of the spouse’s date of death. This can be extremely important if the asset was a community property asset since the surviving spouse can take advantage of a fair market value step-up in basis value as of the date of death of the first spouse.”
Make sure to keep mortgage, insurance, utility and HOA payments current. Note that the utilities will need to be functional when the buyer’s home inspection is done, and that these utility billings can simply be switched over to the buyer’s account when the sale is finalized.
There may be tax advantage on selling the house within 2 years after your spouse passed away
The great news is that as long as you complete the sale within two or less years from your spouse’s death, you will even be able to claim the same tax exclusion that you would have if you were still married. In addition, you may even be able to carry over your existing tax base to your new residence, if it is lower and advantageous for you.
Community Property With Right of Survivorship is a way that husbands and wives may own real estate in California, and it states that title to the property passes automatically upon the death of the first spouse to the survivor. When the house title is held in this manner, an Affidavit of Death of Spouse – Community Property with Right of Survivorship may be recorded by the surviving spouse in conjunction with a copy of the deceased spouse’s death certificate to clear record title. The affidavit serves to put the general public on notice that the death has occurred and the surviving spouse is now the formal owner of the house. Check your records to see how you and your spouse hold title to your property.
Once your home is sold, you of course, will need to find a replacement property that is suitable to your needs and new lifestyle. When purchasing a new home, you may wish to pay for it with cash, or you may want to take advantage of the numerous financing options which are available to you. If you are 62 years old, or above, have no regular income and require financing to be able to purchase a home, a reverse mortgage might work for you. There is no credit or income criteria needed to qualify for a reverse mortgage.
Read more about reverse mortgages from the Federal Trade Commission: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0192-reverse-mortgages
Here is a handy checklist of items to download and complete when a spouse passes away: http://www.help4srs.org/pdf/HELP_dthchecklist.pdf
My mother or father just died. What do I do now?
The same advise described on this page applies to the death of a parent as well (read below). It may be more difficult to gather the necessary documentation because of unfamiliarity of where your mother filed her paperwork and perhaps you do not know the location of her safety deposit box. You may need to enlist the help of your mother’s closest friends to discover some of these items.
However, this could be an entirely different story if you have siblings or even half-siblings. If so, all will have to agree on who will handle what during this painful time. Of course, if there is a will or trust, an executor will have been named to handle most of these details.
My husband just died and he handled all of our bills and finances. How do I even begin to understand what to do?
We are extremely sorry to hear of your husband’s passing. Right now you are probably feeling overwhelmed, just like most widows feel. And, just like most widows, in time this will be manageable for you.
The first step is to locate where your late husband filed the bills, so that you know whom to pay, and when. Also, please read #1 below about the value of having a “Financial Support Team”. You may also want to seek help from The nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), 1 800 388 2227.
Double check to ensure that you have health insurance. Call your spouse’s employer to see if you’re still covered and for how long. If you are no longer covered, get medical insurance immediately.
My wife recently passed away and I don’t know what to do with all of her belongings?
This can be one of the most emotional acts that a surviving spouse has to do – cleaning out and disposing of your wife’s personal possessions.
After deciding on which items to keep for yourself, then it is best to decide, possibly with your family’s help, which of your wife’s belongings may go to the other family members.
Once all of this is sorted out, then you will need to decide which items you would like to either sell or donate to charity.
Here are some links to charities that you may wish to consider to make donations to:
My spouse just died. Now what?
What to do after a husband / wife passed away?
Coping with the death of a spouse is unimaginably difficult, yet most of us go through this at least once in our lifetimes. The emotions, feelings of loss and grief are deeply personal and only the surviving spouse can process and come to terms with these very real feelings.
Read more about understanding grief: http://www.aarp.org/relationships/grief-loss/info-03-2011/truth-about-grief.html
On top of this, soon, thoughts migrate to how the financial part of your life will progress as a widow or widower. Perhaps your recently deceased spouse handled the bulk, or all of your finances. At the same time, the house that you shared may suddenly seem way too large for just one person, or may not fit your lifestyle or needs any longer. So, decisions need to be made as to how and when to deal with everything. However, at this time even simple decisions can be overwhelming.
1. It may be beneficial for you to create a “Financial Support Team.”
This team might include an accountant, lawyer, financial planner, and a trusted friend or family member who has good reasoning and financial skills. Getting this outside help from your Financial Support Team can make a big difference in the quality of the decisions being made, especially since you are likely to still be dealing with grief and the small details of each decision may, at this time, seem insignificant to you.
To settle your spouse’s estate, apply for insurance proceeds or government benefits, you will need numerous documents. Gathering these documents (you will need to apply for certified copies for some) should be your first step in getting your finances organized. Use the list below as your rough guide of how to proceed in settling your spouse’s estate.
2. Get as Many as 15 Copies of the Death Certificate
Almost every institution that your spouse dealt with will require a death certificate to close out their account. Many of these institutions will require a certified death certificate rather than just a copy. It is also a good idea to keep a certified death certificate in your purse or wallet so that you will be able to produce one when asked.
Death certificates can be obtained from either the California Department of Public Health http://www.cdph.ca.gov/certlic/birthdeathmar/Pages/CertifiedCopiesofBirthDeathRecords.aspx , or from you County Recorder’s Office.
In San Diego you can obtain information from the County Recorder’s Office; http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/hhsa/programs/phs/office_of_vital_records_and_statistics/death_certificates.html (619) 692-5733.
You may download the request form for a Certified Copy of Death Record for San Diego here; http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/hhsa/programs/phs/documents/Full_DC_Application_03-10.pdf
3. Obtain Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration
A Letter of Testamentary, or as it is sometimes called, a “Letter of Administration” is a document granted by a local court. This document declares that you are the legal executor of the estate.
In most cases, a Letter of Testamentary, along with a death certificate, are the two documents you’ll need to do the real estate transactions, banking, and asset distribution you were appointed to carry out.
4. Consult a Lawyer – Even if You Decide Not to Hire One
When your spouse dies, even simple tasks may seem unmanageable, both emotionally and financially. If you are responsible for administering your spouse’s estate, you will need a resource to ask questions of and also to understand what needs to be done from a legal perspective. Most lawyers offer a free one hour consultation. Take advantage of this and bring along a trusted family member or friend.
You most likely will not need much, if any, legal assistance if your spouse has few assets with little financial value.
On the other hand, if there may be complications, lawyers can spot certain issues, of which few people are aware of. Which can have a positive impact in your life and future.
Even if you decide not to hire the lawyer, you should at least come away from the consultation with a deeper understanding of what lies ahead.
5. Collect and Secure Pertinent Documents
• the death certificate(s)
• social security card/information
• pre-arranged funeral arrangements, if any
• the will or trust
• insurance policies (life, homeowners, health, disability, auto, etc.)
• most recent credit card statements
• investment and retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k) plans, mutual funds, pensions, etc.)
• most recent checking and savings account statements (including CDs and money-market accounts)
• most recent mortgage statement
• last two years’ tax returns
• Medicare information, if applicable
• marriage and birth certificates (of the deceased’s spouse and children)
• partnership agreements, if any
• divorce agreements, if any
• safety deposit box key/information
• an up-to-date credit report of the deceased
6. Notify Financial Institutions, Government Agencies and Others
Social Security Administration
Insurance companies – auto, health, life, etc.
Veteran’s Administration – if the person was a former member of the military
Immigration Services – if the decedent is not a U.S. citizen
Department of Motor Vehicles if the person had a driver’s license or state ID card. Also make sure that any vehicle registration papers are transferred to the new owners
Agencies that may be involved due to professional licenses – bar association, medical licenses, real estate, etc.
7. Apply for Benefits Due to Survivors
For all insurance policies, as well as financial contracts — including car loans, mortgages and credit card agreements — find out if insurance premiums were paid on the accounts. If so, cash benefits or prorations may be due to survivors.
Also, ask many questions to learn if survivors are due pension benefits or income from your spouse’s employer, union or the military, if they served. Employers may pay out unpaid salary, bonuses previously earned, 401(k) funds, along with unused vacation, sick or holiday time, left over funds from a medical flexible spending account or stock options.
For many survivors the largest payout following a spouse’s death comes from life insurance proceeds. In dealing with insurers the process should be fairly straight-forward.
Request a claim form and submit it, along with a certified death certificate. In most cases, within a span of four to six weeks, you will receive the life insurance check.
However, be extremely careful when receiving the life insurance check. Just like lottery winners we hear about on the news, receiving a huge check can many times be a temptation to go on an immediate spending spree. This can be a dangerous time to receive a large sum of money while your emotions are so raw.
One good alternative is to just let the money stay with the insurer, or deposit it in the bank and let the interest grow for six months. This gives you time to plan after your emotions return to a more normal state.
8. Pay Final Bills and Guard Against Financial Fraud
Paying outstanding bills, closing accounts and making numerous financial decisions can be quite a daunting task. This is where your Financial Support Team will really come in handy.
If you do not have the luxury of a Financial Support Team, seek help elsewhere. The nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), 1 800 388 2227, can help you establish a budget and repay creditors, other organizations offer quality credit counseling as well.
9. Order a Credit Report and Monitor Against Identity Theft
A deceased person’s credit report is not automatically removed from bureau records immediately. Once the death is reported, lenders can stop new credit from being issued and help prevent fraudulent activities, such as identity theft.
After the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse is legally entitled to their credit report. It is wise to order this credit report quickly and at the same time notify them of the death of your spouse so that they will flag the account and no longer issue credit to anyone in your spouse’s name.
Follow this link to download a sample letter which you may want to use to send to the three credit reporting agencies to request the report and notify them of the death.
You can also order a credit report online at; http://annualcreditreport.com . However the notification of death must be handled separately.
10. Be aware of scam artists
Be on alert for those who may prey upon new widows. These scam artists look for death notices and make fraudulent claims against the decedent. Some also look to burglarize homes during funeral services. Have someone stay at your home during the funeral service and use diligence before you agree to any claims from individuals with no documentation.
Some scam artists contact widows, asking them to pay for items that their deceased spouse reportedly ordered before their passing. They may also send fraudulent invoices for services that were supposedly rendered in connection with the spouse’s death. Before paying any money to creditors, make a habit of getting a written statement of the charges and investigating the claim to make sure it is genuine, before sending any and all payments.
11. Review your will or trust
Estate, Business and Elder Law attorney Brenda Geiger from Carlsbad California recommends reviewing trusts and, or wills, because: ” 12. Cancel or Transfer Accounts, Memberships and Subscriptions
Cancel all membership programs that your spouse may have had- video rental, public library, fitness club, country club, etc.,
What does an an Executor do?
The responsibility of the executor is to collect the assets, pay the proper debts, expenses and taxes, and then distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries in accordance to any will or trust.
The executor has a duty to protect and preserve the estate’s assets. The executor should attempt to put together an inventory of all assets and their values as of the date of death. Probate requires that this be done within 90 days of the date of death.
Even if there is no probate, the beneficiaries should be notified of the estate’s assets and liabilities as quickly as possible after the passing of your spouse. Keeping beneficiaries up to date on everything is a best practice to avoid future litigation.
If you would like to know how much your home is worth in preparation of selling a house after a spouse’s death, please contact us below.