And I thought money was hard when we didn't have it.
March 12, 2015 11:38 AM   Subscribe

We’re unexpectedly inheriting a house and we have a week to decide what to do with it.

Recently, a relative died and left us a house and some cash. A public trustee was nominated as the executor of the will, and we have until the end of next week to decide whether we want them to sell the property on our behalf or transfer title to us. I know the usual advice for a large windfall is to make an appointment with a financial advisor, but we haven’t been able to get one prior to the deadline for making this decision. We did speak to a solicitor, who tentatively advised us to have the trustee sell it on our behalf.

This inheritance is completely unexpected, and has the potential to seriously change our lives, but we’ve never had any significant amount of money before and we don’t want to screw it up. The house is valued at around 600k, and there’ll be about 300k in additional cash remaining once everything’s been paid from the estate. We don’t own any property, but would ideally like to buy a house within the next few years. It’s possible that we could move into the inherited property, but it’s worth much more than we were planning to spend on a house (300-350k), so it seems more sensible to sell.

The house is old and needs work, but it is a large family home in a very high-demand location, hence the present valuation. Spending money on renovations could potentially increase the value a lot. We’re guessing the trustee probably would mostly just want to sell as quickly as possible? They do get commission on the sale, but I don’t think they’d be as interested in maximising the sale price as we would be.

On the other hand, we (clearly) have no idea what we’re doing here, so maybe the whole thing would be too risky and difficult and we should just let them sell it and take the cash? The solicitor seemed to think it makes more sense for us to take the cash so we can get into a property of our own sooner. He was also concerned about CGT, but as far as I can tell, where we live (Australia) CGT doesn’t apply to the property as long as we sell it within two years of the date of death.

I guess my question here is - does anyone have any experience with having a public trustee, as executor of a will, sell a property on their behalf? Were you happy with the result? What might we not be thinking of?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot imagine any good coming from making a rush decision on a 600k house, especially given that you will also be getting half again as much in cash. Your solicitor sounds sort of unclear -- why did they advise it to be sold? Is the solicitor somehow involved with the trustee?

"I intended to pay 300 for a house and suddenly was given 300 PLUS a house worth 600, obviously I shouldn't move into the house because it is more than I had planned before I knew about the million dollars I just inherited" -- this doesn't make sense to me. Maybe you shouldn't move into this house and you should sell it, but your financial planning needs to be reconsidered given this huge windfall.

If the house is in a high demand location, you aren't going to lose the chance to sell it in a few weeks once you've got your ducks in order. Having a trustee sell it means you need to pay not only the agent but also the trustee (I imagine the trustee is not an agent).
posted by jeather at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2015 [20 favorites]

I'm having trouble understanding (a) why you only have a week to decide, and (b) how you seem to think you do not have time to hire your own estate lawyer to walk you through your options and possibly represent your interests.

I'm pretty sure you should at least be able to get an extension on the decision deadline. That might be a court thing, IDK. Your lawyer will know.

I will say that in general, when you get a windfall and someone connected to the disposition of such is giving you a hard sell or crazy deadline, the only person who benefits from the hard sell/deadline is the other party and not you.

Upon preview: nthing jeather.

Spend a couple of hundred to a few thousand to retain and independent estate lawyer. I don't know about taxes, but I imagine selling it yourself and cutting the trustee out gets you the most $$. Don't worry about the repairs if the area is desirable, some buyers and developers tear down perfectly viable houses to rebuild on the property. It sounds like you might have this type of situation on your hands. I think your biggest worry is taxes, hidden penalties or fees, and getting rid of the trustee and any other folks with their hands out trying to profit off of your inheritance unnecessarily.
posted by jbenben at 11:53 AM on March 12, 2015 [13 favorites]

He was also concerned about CGT, but as far as I can tell, where we live (Australia) CGT doesn’t apply to the property as long as we sell it within two years of the date of death.

I think this is key; you want to nail down whether you avoid some tax issues by just having it sold now. If not, I would not rush into it.

But, as someone currently living in an expensive house because we inherited it, I strongly encourage you to turn it around fairly quickly. It may be different where you are; in the US, having a lot of house and not that much income is a financial disaster, for tax and other reasons. I wish we had sold the house more or less immediately. (Full disclosure, though, we had to buy out a sibling and that left us with even less cash.) If you are in love with the house, and are really going to enjoy it, I'd say live in it but it doesn't sound like you are emotionally invested in it.

Good luck!
posted by BibiRose at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2015

If the house is worth $600K and you believe you can sell it in short order, the question is more like this:

If you had $600K, would you buy that house? If you could sell it for more after some work, would you buy that house for $600K, spend the money/time to improve it, and try to sell it for, say, $650K?

Now, selling a house isn't an instantaneous process, nor is it necessarily going to be exactly $600K. But there's minimal real advantage in living in this $600K house vs selling it and using the proceeds to buy a $600K (or cheaper) house that you really truly want.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ask the trustees, "what would happen if we asked you to sell it on our behalf, and then before the house was prepped for sale, we changed our minds?" It seems like there might be a back door there, that just involves paying various people (legal, real-estate) for their time.
posted by aimedwander at 12:11 PM on March 12, 2015

(a) why you only have a week to decide

Probably because the public trustee handles a sufficient case volume that it wants things rattled off quickly.

You're going to need more lawyering, that's for sure.

But: you also have to be willing to think honestly about the "potential" renovations and increase in value as imaginary money, not money that's locked away and can somehow be unlocked. To put it another way: if you were being offered $900k in cash and first refusal on this house, would you spend two-thirds of the cash with an eye on flipping the house to make a profit?
posted by holgate at 12:20 PM on March 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

My condolences on the loss of your relative.

One question you may want to ask your own lawyer is how this inheritance affects the division of assets if (god forbid) you divorce. I know it is horrible to even think about, but if the inheritance was specifically meant for one of you - based on their relationship with the deceased - rather than both of yours' relationship with them, the intention was to benefit the individual. Every jurisdiction is different, but in mine, as long as the money is not co-mingled, it is separate from family assets.
posted by saucysault at 12:33 PM on March 12, 2015

The house is old and needs work, but it is a large family home in a very high-demand location, hence the present valuation. Spending money on renovations could potentially increase the value a lot.

I'm sorry for your loss.

I don't have advice here, but I would question the assumption that spending money on renovations will increase the value of the house beyond the cost of the renovations. Recouping your investment on renovations/remodeling is pretty rare, especially if you don't do the work yourself and if you don't know what you're doing.
posted by griseus at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

What about the contents of the house, is it empty or something out of an episode of Hoarders?
posted by Sophont at 1:35 PM on March 12, 2015

My head spins. You are going to inherit the house, possibly tax free. You don't want to live there because the house would otherwise be too expensive? You're going there scot-free, Mortgage free, ... Move in, take your time decide, sell, stay. Being forced to decide quickly does not sound right unless the Will states you have a timed option, but as you said you are the inheritors...
posted by Gungho at 1:35 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

You're going to try to make a half million dollar decision without any professional advice?

Lawyer up and find a way to get more than a week to make this decision so you can consult with the proper professionals.
posted by zug at 1:59 PM on March 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm having trouble understanding (a) why you only have a week to decide, and (b) how you seem to think you do not have time to hire your own estate lawyer to walk you through your options and possibly represent your interests.

Please explain why you have to meet this extreme, outrageous deadline. Your acceptance of this strange deadline may indicate you are getting poor legal advice.

And if that's the case, your other questions about whether to sell now, etc., are moot since we don't know your real situation.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:06 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

To summarize your question: the trustee could sell the property for you, but would probably fail to maximize the benefit you would gain from a sale, since the trustee's primary interest is liquidating the trust as soon as possible. As such, the trustee is urging you to reach a speedy decision?

Assuming that summary is correct, take the property. I mean, get a lawyer, but in the meantime, do not have the trustee rush to sell the property in a way that places the trustee's interests ahead of yours (which is more or less what jeather and jbenben said above). Also, don't renovate any place you're not going to live in. If you're not a general contractor (and judging by the fact you're asking this question, you're probably not) you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to gain a suitable return on the investment in renovations (which is what griseus said). You can't compete with the people who flip properties for a living.

It might not be a terrible investment to spend some of the inheritance to fix the place up and then live in it, if it's otherwise free and clear. Presumably the tax burden is lower than what you're paying in rent now, and you could put the difference into savings or otherwise invest it. But if you determine that you're not going to live in the house, don't spend anything to fix it up (aside from whatever work is required to bring it up to code, if its condition is truly dire). Just sell it as is.

Aside from trying to engage a lawyer, the other thing I personally would do is call a few real estate agents (or whatever they're called in Oz) and find out what commission they'd charge on a sale. Here in the US there's a standard commission but above a certain dollar amount the commission is somewhat negotiable, and you might be able to estimate how much you'd earn from a sale through an agent, vs how much you could earn with the trustee's commission. Don't sign any exclusive agreements with anybody, but it's normal to shop that sort of thing around.
posted by fedward at 3:16 PM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss.

I am currently working on preparing my recently deceased father-in-law's house for sale. The issues are somewhat different, but do consider:

1) There should not be an urgent rush to determine the disposition of a major asset. Estates here in the US typically take many months, sometimes years, to work through the probate process. I would imagine it to be similar elsewhere. I would be alarmed at the pressure, and you should check with your attorney about pushing back if the executor is insistent.

2) Even if you do decide to ultimately sell the house, almost every house requires at least modest repairs and maintenance, maybe painting, in order to be marketable. You've already indicated you think some repairs would significantly increase the value. You might be wrong, but you're probably right. Trust your instinct.

3) A rapid sale of a property usually results in a less-than-optimal selling price. We're expecting to have the property I'm working on up for sale for possibly many months. If we get a much better offer instead of just taking the first offer, it's worth it to wait.

Definitely retain an experienced estate attorney and probably a real estate agent. It may cost a few thousand dollars by the time it is all done, but it is the best path to maximizing things in your favor. Do not commit to anything major without the advice of your own independent estate attorney.
posted by jgreco at 3:39 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

You do not have a "week" to decide what to do with it. That's utter and complete bullshit. You may have a week to decide what to do NOW in relationship to THIS trustee and their involvement, but if you take the house and move into it, you are not stuck there for all eternity with no hope of selling it.

He was also concerned about CGT, but as far as I can tell, where we live (Australia) CGT doesn’t apply to the property as long as we sell it within two years of the date of death.

This two year deadline is the one you need to consider to be significant.

You really, really should not be making decisions about a nearly million dollar windfall on short notice, right after getting it. The best thing to do is find some means to put it on ice for a minimum of three months and preferably six months. Continue living your life as if you hadn't gotten this windfall at all and spend three to six months wrapping your head around a) your new financial status, which is completely different from your old one and b) what the hell you want to do with it.

A truism that you want to avoid falling victim to is "easy come, easy go." When people come into an unexpected windfall, the most common thing they do is blow it. They didn't work for it. They don't really appreciate it.

It's really foolish to sell this house in a highly desirable neighborhood promptly after inheriting it. Once sold, you cannot readily get it back. Please do not undervalue the possibility of actually living there. You didn't work your ass off to acquire such a highly desirable house, in a desirable neighborhood. To you, it is currently like monopoly money. Don't do that. It's a huge, huge mistake.

If you MUST give someone an answer within the week, then the answer is to take possession of the house and decide for yourself at leisure what the hell to do with the thing, after you have spent some time in it, educated yourself some about money and so on.

Mark a date on your calendar that is a minimum of three months away. Do not make any major decisions about this windfall before then. Take your time, get your head wrapped around it, educate yourself, and make a good decision. People trying to rush you are usually up to something. I see no reason in your Ask why you should accept being dictated some short deadline. About 99.999% of the time, when someone pressures you to give an answer with a real tight deadline, they are trying to manipulate the outcome in a manner that is favorable to them. The correct answer to someone giving you a tight deadline with no real compelling reason behind it is almost always "no, thank you."

For now, take the house and the money, sit on it and decide later what to do.
posted by Michele in California at 3:57 PM on March 12, 2015 [11 favorites]

For what it's worth, even the two-year time limit for selling the house without incurring the capital gains tax is apparently waived if it was the deceased's primary residence (with exceptions made for moving into, say, a nursing home) and if you end up moving into it as soon as it's "first practicable to do so after acquiring it." (found here on a official government site, though obviously talk to a lawyer, etc.)
posted by nobody at 4:10 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

A note on renovating to increase value: if someone had come through what is now my home and scrubbed or repainted the walls and ripped out the 70s era shag carpet to expose the gorgeous original hardwood, it wouldn't have been on the market for a year and would have sold for a 20+% higher price. It was listed as-is with a plumbing issue and the bare minimum done to it because the lady selling it hated her deceased parents, and she walked away from plenty of "free money" in doing so.

A week is a fake deadline. Take your time, let your new reality settle, hire someone for your new financial interests, THEN make the decision.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:33 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

You do not have a "week" to decide what to do with it. That's utter and complete bullshit.

Agreed. Tell the trustee that you will need more time to decide, that you need to get advice first, and see what they say.

I suggest that you get a new solicitor also, as the one you have apparently has failed to explain the situation that find yourself in to you a way that helps you understands your options and gives you confidence. You are about to inherit $300K in cash, you can and should spend a couple of grand to get good advice on this.

If you or the property in question are in NSW, I would be happy to direct to you a solicitor whom I know, trust, and have used before, who specialises in property and estate planning. I imagine the mods can contact me via memail on your behalf, while maintaining your anonymity.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:38 PM on March 12, 2015

Check the limits for capital gains tax. In the US it changed from 100K to 250K. I'll nth the advice to slow this down and get legal advice and weigh your options.
posted by bendy at 7:56 PM on March 12, 2015

I inherited a house that came with some money. It's more house than I wanted, but mt sister and I (who inherited jointly) decided to keep it for the short term at least. It was in the US and not Australia. I concur with everyone that

1. You tell the trustee not to sell it right now, and if it were me I would push back strongly against this week deadline.
2. You get professional advice about whether a more expensive house that comes with money might be one you could afford to live in at least for a few years. Or if you'd even want that.
3. You think of the extra time specifically as time you have to assess the contents of the house (which I presume go with it) and some of the other aspects of this.

The estate that I inherited from, in the US, took three years to close. It was complex, but even simple estates just take time for paperwork and whatnot. If you get the title to the house you will have to think about some things right off the bat

- residency or some other way to keep an eye on the place and make it look lived in enough to not attract trouble
- insuring it (you can probably keep paying the same insurers)
- keeping the bills current (this will be your issue once the estate closes, it's the "estate's" before then, in the US at least, which may be why the solicitor is hassling you possibly, because they have to deal with this because it's a hassle?)

If the house has no sentimental value whatsoever I'd be inclined to say "Take the cash" to keep you from even hassling over it, but this really has the potential to be win/win with some planning. It's unlikely that having it be sold by a solicitor is going to be a better outcome than selling it yourselves EXCEPT for the hassle factor and I'd think considerably about that (in consultation with a professional if you can) about how you feel about that.

I am sorry for your loss, I hope you arrive at a decision that you feel good about.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 PM on March 12, 2015

In the US I was the executor of my parents' estate and split the estate between the two heirs, buying out my brother and keeping the house. The only thing that had to be done in a hurry was having the house appraised as quickly as possible to determine the value at time of death. That assessed value becomes the new strike price that your capital gains are calculated from. Perhaps that's the time constraint your public trustee is on about.

It took me 15 months to settle the estate and the bulk of the time was spent getting title to the house transferred.

I knew I wanted the house from the get-go. If I were you, and you already have doubts, I'd work towards selling. I would not sink much money into rehabbing it just to hope to get a better sales price. Tidy up the front yard, paint the front door and let it go.
posted by aninom at 10:44 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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