Real Estate and Estate Planning

Close-up of elder man signing documents

One of the things COVID-19 has done for my family and me is to rethink our wills and long term estate planning. I interviewed an estate attorney, Kim Rockwood and wanted to share her thoughts on the subject of selling a family house after someone is deceased. Chatel Group has this issue come up from time to time and in the spirit of preparedness, here is the essence of our conversation.

Sarah: Kim, thank you for taking my call. As my clients do their own estate planning one of the questions that comes up is how long does it take to sell a house in probate?

Kim: This is a great question and it comes up all the time. Before getting in to how long the process takes, however, allow me to explain what “probate” is. Probate is the legal process by which title to assets is transferred from one person to another. When someone dies, he or she is not able to transfer assets anymore, so the legal process steps in.

Probate is a court proceeding, which means a judge oversees the process. Probate is designed for anyone who could possibly have a claim to your assets to be able to make such a claim.

Your heirs are required to get notice of the case, and so are your creditors. The entire process is public record, too, meaning anyone can pull the case file and see who your family is, where they live, and what assets you have. Objections can be made at any point during the process.

Sarah: Wow! This sounds complicated and time consuming!

Kim: Well, in normal times, a probate case can last several months to many years. It depends on how backlogged the court is, how many objections are made, how many creditors’ claims there are, and many other related factors. When the matter finally reaches its conclusion, creditors and taxes are paid first. Your family is always paid out last.

Sarah: So what does probate have to do with selling Real Estate?

Kim: When the owner of a piece of real estate dies, the land or house becomes part of the probate proceeding. How long the process takes in order to be able to sell or transfer the house depends on a number of factors:

  • Whether there is a will or no will, even though both go through probate
  • How the house is titled
  • How many heirs there are and whether there’s conflict among them
  • How quickly you can get a motion filed. This is a separate filing from the will itself
  • You must take an extra step in order to sell a house
  • The size of the judge’s backlog

Sarah: So where does the Real Estate Agent come in and how can we be of service during this already complicated time?

Kim: When you finally get court approval, there’s the actual selling part, which is where the Realtor comes in, if that’s what the family chooses to do. Realtors can help families get the house ready to sell, facilitate any repairs or help decide whether it is more prudent to sell the property “as-is.” Then comes marketing the property and then bringing all offers to the family or
trustee of the estate in order to make it to the closing table.

Sarah: Chatel Group has worked with a number of Trustee for Estates over our tenure in the business. It is one of the most rewarding things we do as a Team to help folks gain closure on the loss of their loved one. What is the typical time for this entire probate process?

Kim: The total timeline is anyone’s guess, but the best estimate is a year or more.

Sarah: Thank you so much, Kim, for your time and thorough explanation of this process. What is one final thought you can leave our reader with, from your professional opinion?

Kim: If you have a house and want your family to avoid the probate process and be able to sell the house faster and without unnecessary delay, talk to an attorney about setting up a living trust. A living trust avoids the probate process altogether, as well as the hassle that goes with it.

Chatel Group is a Boutique Real Estate Team with Ansley Atlanta Real Estate Services. Our motto is: Exceptional Experiences in Real Estate. We can be found at and contacted at 404-793-2929.

Kim Knight Rockwood, Attorney & Counselor at Law, is an Estate Planning Attorney, Serving Georgia families and small business owners in the construction industry. Located in Sandy Springs, GA, she can be reached through her website or at 404-492-9640.