What to do with your parent’s house after death

Losing a parent is often one of the most emotional moments in our lives. The thought of having to sort out their home and belongings can be extremely stressful. Laura Karon, who is a Wills and Probate lawyer at Phillips Solicitors sets out some practical steps to help you get through this difficult time:

Notify the utility companies, council and insurers

Firstly, it is a good idea to notify the utility companies, council tax department and house insurers of the death of the homeowner. This is because once a bank is notified that somebody has died, they will not only freeze that person’s bank accounts, but also cancel any direct debits and standing orders on the account which may be in place to pay the household bills. 

Most utility providers will have dedicated bereavement teams who will assist you in what you should be doing next. You will probably want to keep the utilities going at least until the house is sold. If the house is being kept by one or more beneficiaries, then it is usually possible to transfer the utilities into the names of the beneficiaries.  With regard to council tax, you should receive an exemption of this until six months after the Grant of Representation has been issued. 

Let the house insurers know that the house is not occupied

On the specific point of house insurance, do be sure to let the insurers know that the house is not occupied because this may affect the terms of the policy. Most major house insurers will limit the risks they cover while a house is unoccupied and will also impose strict conditions for how regularly the house must be inspected. If you are concerned about the level of risk the insurers are prepared to cover, there are specialist probate insurers who will continue to cover all risks while having less onerous conditions. 

Keep the heating on

You do not want to be dealing with burst water pipes, so do ensure that the heating in the property is kept on during the winter months – this is usually a condition of the house insurance too.  Alternatively, you can arrange for the heating system to be drained.  

Clearing the property

At some point you will want to start clearing the property. If you are planning to sell the house, then it might be worth keeping the house furnished while it is being marketed although the estate agents will usually offer advice on this. 

Before clearing the property, it is advisable that you obtain professional valuations for items in the house which you think may be valuable. Be sure to also check whether any items in the house have been gifted to anybody in the Will because these will need to be passed on. Otherwise, the rest of the contents of the property can either be donated to charity or cleared if they hold no sentimental or resale value.  

Keep or sell the house

You may wish to sell the house or keep hold of it – either way, a Grant of Representation (probate) is required. As part of the probate application, an open market value for the property must be obtained and we usually suggest you obtain two or three valuations from local estate agents. 

If you have decided to sell the property, while we usually advise our clients that a house can be marketed without needing probate, you will only be able to exchange and complete on the sale once probate is granted. If you choose to market the property before probate is obtained, any prospective buyer must be made aware of this because at present the probate registry is taking a number of weeks to process probate applications. 

We are here to help

If you would like to discuss this or any other Wills and probate issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Laura by calling 01256 854618, emailing lau[email protected] or by using our request a quote form.