"I am selling my home but I’m now told it is still owned by my late husband."
"I have been living in my house for 40 years, my bond is been paid up, the kids are out of the house and it is time for me to downsize and sell.
I received a great offer but now I am told I cannot sell my house freely because it still belongs to my late husband who died 20 years ago. I don’t understand this because I thought I inherited everything when my husband died? I am the sole heir in his Will."
When a person dies, their estate must be reported to the office of the Master of the High Court nearest to where the deceased lived. An Executor must be formally appointed in terms of the Letters of Executorship and a legal winding up process must take place. Sometimes a surviving spouse receives cash from life insurance policies and takes inheritance by the change of a name on an offshore investment by their financial advisor, however, this does not mean that all assets in the estate have been dealt with and the estate completely wound up.
Where there is fixed property (family home for example), it is very important that the steps for winding up the estate are followed and that a conveyancing attorney is appointed to ensure that the title deeds are registered in the Deeds Registry to show the change in ownership due to inheritance. Distribution to the surviving spouse will not be considered complete until this has happened and a spouse cannot sell unless she is the registered owner.
In the case above, the surviving spouse has 2 options:
1. The property can be sold to a buyer directly from the estate of her late husband by the Executor, or
2. The surviving spouse can wait until she receives inheritance by completed distribution by way of registration in the Deeds Registry, and then sell independently in her own time.
Both options will require the winding up process of the deceased estate to take place, however, option 1 can be a quicker solution if there is time pressure as the sale forms part of the winding up steps.
Woodhead Bigby Inc.’s team of experienced deceased estate attorneys and conveyancers regularly provide guidance on property ownership rights and winding up deceased estates.