Q: My widowed mother passed away a few months ago. I have been making payments to the condo association while my sister and I have been cleaning it. We want to sell it. What do we need to do next?
— Kelly A: It is hard to lose a loved one, and sorting their affairs can be challenging. You and your sister are off to a good start in settling your mother’s affairs.
This process can be easier if your mother had a will. This estate planning document will instruct you on how your mother wanted her estate dealt with. If you are unsure if your mother had a will, look for it when cleaning her apartment. In my experience, most people stash important papers in a safety deposit box, freezer or bedroom closet.
You will need to go through the probate process to be able to sell her apartment. If you found a will, it may have instructions on conducting the “testate” probate administration. Many people pass away “intestate” or without a will, so the law will provide procedures for this situation.
The rules also deal with a decedent’s primary residence differently than their other assets. Unless the will is written in a particular way, you and your siblings will likely inherit the property.
You will need to use the probate process to gain the ability to sell the apartment and finalize the rest of your mother’s affairs. Depending on the particulars, you will need to become the “personal representative,” sometimes called the “executor,” of her estate.
If her estate is limited, you and your siblings may qualify for a simplified probate, skipping some formalities and paperwork.
You will need to work with an attorney who can guide you through the correct process.
Once the legal formalities are underway, the rest of the process is similar to selling any apartment. You engage a real estate broker and attorney to help you market and sell the property.
If you can, it is best to continue paying the apartment’s bills, like the condo dues, mortgage payments, and utilities, as falling behind in these payments can further complicate matters.
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.