The short answer to if an executor can sell a property
Yes. Assuming the executor is acting on behalf of the estate, following the directions of the will or intestacy laws, and performing with a sense of fiduciary duty, selling a property happens all the time in probate and estate settlement.
The longer answer to if an executor can sell real estate
An executor’s, personal representative’s, or executrix’s job is to carry out a will’s wishes if it exists, or to follow the laws that govern what happens to peoples’ stuff when someone dies intestate, or without a will. These are known as intestacy laws.
In either situation, the executor will have rules and guidelines to follow, and they must follow them to the best of their ability. For example, a will may say to sell the family the vacation home and donate the proceeds to a particular charity. Or maybe it says to give all of it to a particular heir or beneficiary.
Or if there isn’t a will and the executor is following intestacy law, maybe the state statutes say to divide ownership of property equally between all surviving children of the deceased, unless a spouse is alive, in which case the surviving spouse receives full ownership. Usually intestacy laws recommend liquidating (selling) real estate and dividing cash among heirs, but it is sometimes possible for beneficiaries to buy out other ownership shares of a home and keep it instead of selling it.
The point? The executor has to follow what the will or laws say. Even if they don’t like it, and even if they are a beneficiary. It doesn’t matter. And if you’re a beneficiary and you don’t think it’s fair, well, that’s either the law or what the person wrote in their will, so either way it is what it is (unless you think there was foul play involved, of course).
Can an Executor Sell Real Estate Without Beneficiaries Approving?
Probate usually involves selling assets, including real estate, for cash and then adding that amount to the estate account that will eventually be distributed to beneficiaries after all debts and taxes have been paid.
In cases where there isn’t a specific mention of what to do with the house, then yes, executors and administrators can often sell the home during probate without explicit consent of all beneficiaries. There may be specific cases where an executor may not be allowed to sell, but this is why having a will is so crucial. Estates without wills hand over more power over to executors, since intestacy laws aren’t always as specific as wills and have some statutes executors must interpret — sometimes to their benefit.
In situations where family members tend to get along, this isn’t a big issue, but in situations where relationships are fraught, these interpretations and “order of operations” in terms of distributions and inheritances make a big difference.
An example of when an executor would sell a property
Let’s say James is the executor for his father, Arnold. Arnold died last year and left behind three children. His wife, Audrey, had died five years previously, leaving him as the sole owner of the property.
James died testate, or with a will, and within the will, James had decided to split the property equally between all three children. The thing is, no one wanted to live in or manage the property. Because of this, all three beneficiaries (the siblings) signed off on James selling the property and distributing the funds from the sale among the beneficiaries.
During probate, James hired a real estate agent using the estate’s funds and counted it as an executor expense. After selling the property, he realized he needed to pay off some of his dad’s debts with the funds he got from selling it. He sold the home for a net $200k, and he still had $50k in debts he needed to pay off. He took $50k from the real estate sale and paid off the debt, leaving $150k from the sale, which he then split three ways, giving each sibling $50k.
Keep in mind, this is about as simplified as it gets for inherited real estate and houses, for a more in-depth look at that, read: How to Inherit a House
What separates good executors from the rest
Executors who figure out everything they are responsible for early on are leagues above the rest. They aren't as stressed, making better financial decisions, and get through it faster. That big-picture direction makes a profound difference, and you can get that understanding in just a few minutes by reading this guide: Executor of Estate Master Guide: Duties and How to Succeed