Manage real estate

Settle the Estate

The executor or administrator has a duty to maintain and manage the deceased's real estate to prevent property damage or unwanted costs that lower the real estate’s value before it can be transferred to beneficiaries.

This will include starting or continuing regularly scheduled home maintenance, such as replacing heating oil and maintaining the lawn.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant The financial circumstances of the Estate - whether it needs additional money to pay debts (its solvency) - will determine whether the property is kept and maintained, or sold for its cash value.

Therefore, the Executor, surviving family, and beneficiaries who will inherit the property will also need to decide whether they want to keep or sell the property. A deceased person’s property can be managed in the following ways during the Probate process:

  • Real estate can be transferred to beneficiaries named in the deceased’s will
  • If no will exists, real estate can be transferred to legal heirs or next of kin, as defined by the laws of the state where the deceased lived
  • If no will exists and no beneficiaries or heirs exist, the property can be sold by the executor or administrator with probate court oversight

For beneficiaries who inherit real estate, or executors or administrators who manage an estate, they may:

  • Keep the real estate - if mortgage payments are still required, the real estate can be transferred to a beneficiary or heir, or the real estate can be refinanced
  • Sell the real estate - if the real estate is worth more than the mortgage balance, any profit realized from the sale can go to the deceased’s beneficiaries

AutumnIcons_Providers.svgProviders When selling real estate during the probate process, it helps to hire a real estate broker experienced with probate and trust sales, because the process and documentation can be different from a typical real estate transaction.

For instance, the executor or administrator may have to show that the real estate was sold for at least market value, and nothing less than its appraised value.

Helpful Tips


Real estate may be managed differently, depending on how it was owned and titled. Property, including real estate, left to Beneficiaries in certain ways will not have to go through the Probate Process, regardless of whether the deceased had a Will.

These situations include, but are not limited to:

  • Real estate held in a Trust
  • Real estate that was jointly owned (and the other owner is still living)
  • Real estate with a Transfer on Death deed (only available in certain states)
  • Real estate owned by a married couple living in a community property state (as long as the real estate was purchased during marriage and the other spouse is still living)

In the situations listed above, real estate is not considered a Probate asset, and therefore does not have to go through the Probate process.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about categorizing assets as probate and non-probate assets, see the “Categorize assets” Task.


Depending on the condition of the real estate, the Executor or Administrator may need to hire service providers to assist with the maintenance of the real estate.

Common real estate service providers that may be needed include:

  • Cleaning services
  • Lawncare services
  • Construction services (if repairs are necessary to maintain the home)
  • Home inspector (if the real estate will be sold)
  • Home appraiser
  • Landlord/Tenant Attorney (if the real estate has tenants)
  • Real estate broker (if the real estate will be sold)

[Date] [Mortgage Lender Name] [Mortgage Lender Address]

RE: [Loan Identification Number]

To Whom it May Concern,

On [date of death], [Name of deceased] passed away. On [date of Letters Testamentary], I was appointed [Executor/Administrator] of their Estate, Estate Number ________. [Name of deceased] had a mortgage on the real estate at [address of real estate] with your company. The loan identification number is _______.

Please address any future correspondence to my address at [Executor address or Estate attorney address]. If you have any questions or concerns, I can be contacted at [contact information].

Sincerely,

[Name of Executor]

Enclosed: Letters Testamentary Death Certificate


  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Personal Considerations


Did the deceased have an outstanding mortgage?


The mortgage that the deceased owed is now owed by the estate. This continues until the property is transferred to a named beneficiary, or, in the absence of a Will, an heir based on state law.

If the deceased had a Will, review it for instructions regarding the real estate.

The deceased may have left instructions regarding the payment of the mortgage, for instance they may have wanted life insurance proceeds to pay off the mortgage or they may expect their beneficiaries to take over the mortgage payment.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant In the meantime, the executor or administrator will need to continue paying the mortgage from the estate bank account, or from the deceased’s bank account.

If the executor or administrator does not have an estate account yet, or does not have access to the deceased’s bank account, they may need to make payments out-of-pocket until an estate account is opened.

Either way, the executor or administrator should keep detailed records of any payments made, including the amount paid, to whom, when, and from what account. Any payments made out-of-pocket should be reimbursed once an estate account is opened.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know The executor or administrator will also need to contact the mortgage lender and notify them of the deceased’s passing.

Also, request a copy of the mortgage loan document if a copy cannot be found among the deceased’s belongings.

The mortgage loan document may contain information about co-signers, and whether the estate is responsible for continued loan payments.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If there was a co-signer on the mortgage, the co-signer is typically solely responsible for the mortgage, not the estate. However, the wording of the mortgage loan document will dictate who is responsible for paying the mortgage.

In some situations, the mortgage document may state that the deceased’s estate is responsible for the continued mortgage payments.


Nothing needs to be done.

Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.


If the deceased had an outstanding mortgage:

The mortgage that the deceased owed is now owed by the estate. This continues until the property is transferred to a named beneficiary, or, in the absence of a Will, an heir based on state law.

If the deceased had a Will, review it for instructions regarding the real estate.

The deceased may have left instructions regarding the payment of the mortgage, for instance they may have wanted life insurance proceeds to pay off the mortgage or they may expect their beneficiaries to take over the mortgage payment.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant In the meantime, the executor or administrator will need to continue paying the mortgage from the estate bank account, or from the deceased’s bank account.

If the executor or administrator does not have an estate account yet, or does not have access to the deceased’s bank account, they may need to make payments out-of-pocket until an estate account is opened.

Either way, the executor or administrator should keep detailed records of any payments made, including the amount paid, to whom, when, and from what account. Any payments made out-of-pocket should be reimbursed once an estate account is opened.

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know The executor or administrator will also need to contact the mortgage lender and notify them of the deceased’s passing.

Also, request a copy of the mortgage loan document if a copy cannot be found among the deceased’s belongings.

The mortgage loan document may contain information about co-signers, and whether the estate is responsible for continued loan payments.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If there was a co-signer on the mortgage, the co-signer is typically solely responsible for the mortgage, not the estate. However, the wording of the mortgage loan document will dictate who is responsible for paying the mortgage.

In some situations, the mortgage document may state that the deceased’s estate is responsible for the continued mortgage payments.

If the deceased did not have an outstanding mortgag:

Nothing needs to be done.

Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.


Does the estate have debts greater than the value of its assets?


It may be necessary to sell the real estate to get cash to pay the estate’s bills and debt.

This may help the estate avoid “insolvency” if the estate’s debts are greater than the value of its assets.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant The executor or administrator should contact a real estate broker experienced in estate sales because the process and documentation can be different from a typical real estate transaction. They should also communicate with the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate, specifically explaining why the real estate may need to be sold.

Keeping the channels of communication open is a way to prevent conflicts from arising among heirs and beneficiaries.


The real estate will need to be maintained until it can be transferred to the beneficiary named in the deceased’s Will, or, in the absence of a Will, an heir determined by state law.

Maintenance of real estate may involve:

  • Keeping the property grounds well kept using landscaping services
  • Paying utility bills to prevent damage to the real estate (e.g. frozen pipes)
  • Paying mortgage payments until the real estate is transferred to a beneficiary
  • Paying real estate taxes until the real estate is transferred to a beneficiary

Once the probate distribution process concludes and the deceased’s beneficiary or heir takes possession of the real estate, they can choose how they want to use the property.


If the estate has debts greater than the value of its assets:

It may be necessary to sell the real estate to get cash to pay the estate’s bills and debt.

This may help the estate avoid “insolvency” if the estate’s debts are greater than the value of its assets.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant The executor or administrator should contact a real estate broker experienced in estate sales because the process and documentation can be different from a typical real estate transaction. They should also communicate with the heirs and beneficiaries of the estate, specifically explaining why the real estate may need to be sold.

Keeping the channels of communication open is a way to prevent conflicts from arising among heirs and beneficiaries.

If the estate does not have debts greater than the value of its assets:

The real estate will need to be maintained until it can be transferred to the beneficiary named in the deceased’s Will, or, in the absence of a Will, an heir determined by state law.

Maintenance of real estate may involve:

  • Keeping the property grounds well kept using landscaping services
  • Paying utility bills to prevent damage to the real estate (e.g. frozen pipes)
  • Paying mortgage payments until the real estate is transferred to a beneficiary
  • Paying real estate taxes until the real estate is transferred to a beneficiary

Once the probate distribution process concludes and the deceased’s beneficiary or heir takes possession of the real estate, they can choose how they want to use the property.


Did the deceased have a Will?


Review the deceased’s Will for instructions regarding the real estate.

Often, a Will names a beneficiary or heir who should receive the real estate.

The will may also contain other instructions regarding the real estate, such as whether the deceased wanted their home sold to pay debts or if they have a savings fund they want to be used to pay for the maintenance of the real estate.


The real estate will be distributed to heirs according to the laws of intestacy of the state where the deceased lived (e.g. surviving spouse, children, or other next of kin).

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the deceased’s debts are greater than the value of their assets, the real estate may have to be sold in order to pay debts.


If the deceased had a Will:

Review the deceased’s Will for instructions regarding the real estate.

Often, a Will names a beneficiary or heir who should receive the real estate.

The will may also contain other instructions regarding the real estate, such as whether the deceased wanted their home sold to pay debts or if they have a savings fund they want to be used to pay for the maintenance of the real estate.

If the deceased did not have a Will:

The real estate will be distributed to heirs according to the laws of intestacy of the state where the deceased lived (e.g. surviving spouse, children, or other next of kin).

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the deceased’s debts are greater than the value of their assets, the real estate may have to be sold in order to pay debts.


Does anyone live in the estate's real property?


Their lease is still valid throughout the remainder of the term listed in the lease.

Locate a copy of the lease to determine how much rent is owed, when it's due, and the terms of the lease.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant The tenants will still need to pay the rent to the executor during the legal probate process before the real estate is transferred to the deceased’s beneficiaries.

Contact the tenants and notify them that they must continue paying rent to the executor.

Provide them with contact information for the executor and instructions for their ongoing rent payments.


Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.


If someone lives in the estate's real property:

Their lease is still valid throughout the remainder of the term listed in the lease.

Locate a copy of the lease to determine how much rent is owed, when it's due, and the terms of the lease.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant The tenants will still need to pay the rent to the executor during the legal probate process before the real estate is transferred to the deceased’s beneficiaries.

Contact the tenants and notify them that they must continue paying rent to the executor.

Provide them with contact information for the executor and instructions for their ongoing rent payments.

If no one lives in the estate's real property:

Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.


Does anyone live in the estate's real property as illegal tenants?


The executor or administrator will need to consult with the deceased’s heirs and beneficiaries to determine if the tenants should be evicted, given a lease, or allowed to remain in the home illegally.

It is best to either evict the illegal tenants or create a lease, allowing them to remain in the real estate in exchange for rent payments.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the executor or administrator and beneficiaries decide to evict the illegal tenants, they will need to work with an eviction attorney or review eviction laws and rules in the state where the real estate is located, as each state has different rules regarding eviction.

While every state has different eviction laws, the process is generally as follows:

  • The tenant must be notified that they are to vacate the premises
  • A eviction complaint (a legal document) must be filed in court in the county where the real estate is located
  • The illegal tenants must be provided notice that an eviction case has been filed in court
  • A hearing will be scheduled which the Executor must attend
  • If the eviction hearing is successful, the Executor may be permitted to remove the tenants property from the real estate (in a manner determine by state law)

Because the eviction process can be complicated, it may be wise to contact a landlord/tenant attorney who has experience with evictions in the county where the real estate is located.

If the executor or administrator and beneficiaries opt to give the illegal tenants a lease, turning them into legal tenants, they will need to work with a landlord/tenant attorney or review leasing laws and rules in the state where the real estate is located, as each state has different landlord/tenant laws.


Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.


If there is anyone living the estate's real property illegally:

The executor or administrator will need to consult with the deceased’s heirs and beneficiaries to determine if the tenants should be evicted, given a lease, or allowed to remain in the home illegally.

It is best to either evict the illegal tenants or create a lease, allowing them to remain in the real estate in exchange for rent payments.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the executor or administrator and beneficiaries decide to evict the illegal tenants, they will need to work with an eviction attorney or review eviction laws and rules in the state where the real estate is located, as each state has different rules regarding eviction.

While every state has different eviction laws, the process is generally as follows:

  • The tenant must be notified that they are to vacate the premises
  • A eviction complaint (a legal document) must be filed in court in the county where the real estate is located
  • The illegal tenants must be provided notice that an eviction case has been filed in court
  • A hearing will be scheduled which the Executor must attend
  • If the eviction hearing is successful, the Executor may be permitted to remove the tenants property from the real estate (in a manner determine by state law)

Because the eviction process can be complicated, it may be wise to contact a landlord/tenant attorney who has experience with evictions in the county where the real estate is located.

If the executor or administrator and beneficiaries opt to give the illegal tenants a lease, turning them into legal tenants, they will need to work with a landlord/tenant attorney or review leasing laws and rules in the state where the real estate is located, as each state has different landlord/tenant laws.

If no one lives in the estate's real property illegally:

Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.


Was the deceased's real estate jointly owned?


It may automatically become the real estate of the surviving joint owner, without the need for the executor to manage the real estate throughout the legal probate process.

Review the real estate deed to determine how the property was owned, because that will guide the process ahead.

Although property ownership can vary by state, there are five common forms of real estate ownership:

  • Joint tenancy - when two or more people own the real estate jointly, with equal rights. If one joint tenant passes away, the surviving tenant(s) now own the property without the need for the real estate to pass through the legal probate process
  • Tenancy in common - when two or more people own the real estate jointly, but it may not be with equal rights. For instance, one owner might have a 75% interest in the real estate, while the other owner may only have a 25% interest in the property. If one owner of the real estate passes away, their share of the real estate must pass to beneficiaries or heirs through the legal probate process
  • Tenants by the entirety - a form of ownership that can only exist between married owners. This form of ownership treats the married couple as one person for legal purposes. If one spouse passes away, the other automatically owns the real estate without the need for the real estate to pass through the legal probate process
  • Sole ownership - ownership by one individuals. One the sole owner passes away, the real estate must pass to beneficiaries or heirs through the legal probate process.
  • Community property - another form of ownership that can only exist between married owners, if the real estate is located in one of nine community property states. If one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse may own the real estate without the need to pass through the legal probate process. The states that allow community property to pass outside of the legal probate process are: Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin. In the other community states, Louisiana, Idaho, New Mexico, and Washington, real estate that is community property must still pass through the legal probate process

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the real estate is owned as a joint tenancy, tenants by the entirety, or is in one of the five community property states listed above, it will pass automatically to the surviving owner(s) without the need to pass through the legal probate process.

If the real estate is owned as a tenancy in common, sole ownership, or community property in one of the four community property states listed above, the deceased’s share of the real estate will need to pass through the legal probate process to the deceased’s beneficiaries and heirs.


If the real estate was owned solely by the deceased, it will need to pass to the deceased’s heirs and beneficiaries through the legal probate process.


If the deceased's real estate was jointly owned:

It may automatically become the real estate of the surviving joint owner, without the need for the executor to manage the real estate throughout the legal probate process.

Review the real estate deed to determine how the property was owned, because that will guide the process ahead.

Although property ownership can vary by state, there are five common forms of real estate ownership:

  • Joint tenancy - when two or more people own the real estate jointly, with equal rights. If one joint tenant passes away, the surviving tenant(s) now own the property without the need for the real estate to pass through the legal probate process
  • Tenancy in common - when two or more people own the real estate jointly, but it may not be with equal rights. For instance, one owner might have a 75% interest in the real estate, while the other owner may only have a 25% interest in the property. If one owner of the real estate passes away, their share of the real estate must pass to beneficiaries or heirs through the legal probate process
  • Tenants by the entirety - a form of ownership that can only exist between married owners. This form of ownership treats the married couple as one person for legal purposes. If one spouse passes away, the other automatically owns the real estate without the need for the real estate to pass through the legal probate process
  • Sole ownership - ownership by one individuals. One the sole owner passes away, the real estate must pass to beneficiaries or heirs through the legal probate process.
  • Community property - another form of ownership that can only exist between married owners, if the real estate is located in one of nine community property states. If one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse may own the real estate without the need to pass through the legal probate process. The states that allow community property to pass outside of the legal probate process are: Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin. In the other community states, Louisiana, Idaho, New Mexico, and Washington, real estate that is community property must still pass through the legal probate process

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If the real estate is owned as a joint tenancy, tenants by the entirety, or is in one of the five community property states listed above, it will pass automatically to the surviving owner(s) without the need to pass through the legal probate process.

If the real estate is owned as a tenancy in common, sole ownership, or community property in one of the four community property states listed above, the deceased’s share of the real estate will need to pass through the legal probate process to the deceased’s beneficiaries and heirs.

If the deceased's real estate was not jointly owned:

If the real estate was owned solely by the deceased, it will need to pass to the deceased’s heirs and beneficiaries through the legal probate process.


Does the real estate need regularly scheduled maintenance?


The executor or administrator has a duty to maintain the deceased’s real estate until it is either transferred to a beneficiary or sold.

Most real estate requires some form of regularly scheduled maintenance, including, but not limited to:

  • Lawn and garden care
  • Heating oil
  • Pest control
  • Septic maintenance
  • Plumbing maintenance

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know If the real estate has a lawn or garden, it will need to be maintained as well. Excessive amounts of brush or grasses around a home can increase the risk of fire, so brush and grasses should be maintained to preserve the integrity of the deceased’s real estate. In some locations, a homeowner may also be subject to fines for failure to maintain a lawn.

Also, if the real estate is part of a Homeowner’s Association (HOA), review the rules of the HOA to determine if there are specific rules regarding lawncare.

For instance, some HOAs stipulate that a home’s lawn must be cut a minimum number of times per week.

Regularly scheduled maintenance needs to be continued (or started) by the executor or administrator to prevent property damage, fines, or a reduction in the value of the estate.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant The executor or administrator can perform the maintenance themselves (if they are qualified and able), enlist the help of heirs and beneficiaries, or hire professional help. Any costs incurred in maintaining the real estate should be paid from the estate bank account.


Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.


If the real estate needs to be maintained:

The executor or administrator has a duty to maintain the deceased’s real estate until it is either transferred to a beneficiary or sold.

Most real estate requires some form of regularly scheduled maintenance, including, but not limited to:

  • Lawn and garden care
  • Heating oil
  • Pest control
  • Septic maintenance
  • Plumbing maintenance

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know If the real estate has a lawn or garden, it will need to be maintained as well. Excessive amounts of brush or grasses around a home can increase the risk of fire, so brush and grasses should be maintained to preserve the integrity of the deceased’s real estate. In some locations, a homeowner may also be subject to fines for failure to maintain a lawn.

Also, if the real estate is part of a Homeowner’s Association (HOA), review the rules of the HOA to determine if there are specific rules regarding lawncare.

For instance, some HOAs stipulate that a home’s lawn must be cut a minimum number of times per week.

Regularly scheduled maintenance needs to be continued (or started) by the executor or administrator to prevent property damage, fines, or a reduction in the value of the estate.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant The executor or administrator can perform the maintenance themselves (if they are qualified and able), enlist the help of heirs and beneficiaries, or hire professional help. Any costs incurred in maintaining the real estate should be paid from the estate bank account.

If the real estate does not need to be maintained:

Review the other questions in this section to learn more about managing the deceased’s real estate.

Actions to Take


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Providers to Contact


Real Estate Attorneys Near You

A real estate attorney assists with the legal process of buying or selling real estate. They can help draft and review paperwork associated with the purchase, sale, or transfer of real estate.

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Landlord and Tenant Attorneys Near You

Landlord and tenant attorneys focus on real estate law pertaining to leased and rented properties. They can help landlords and tenants understand their rights and represent them in court.

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Appraisers Near You

An appraiser is a professional who specializes in estimating the value of property. They can help you estimate the value of the deceased’s assets.

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Settle the Estate