Inheriting a property is a big responsibility, especially if you already know you don’t want to keep the house. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the various financial considerations associated with selling inherited property – which can lead to some surprises when tax season rolls around.
The process of selling an inherited house is made even more complex by the fact that oftentimes, ownership is divided among siblings or other relatives. If you are expected to inherit a property, or need to walk a loved one through the process, the following frequently asked questions can help:
Can You Sell Inherited Property?
You can sell an inherited property, though there are certain stipulations to keep in mind. An inherited property cannot be sold until ownership has officially changed hands during the probate process. The house will still need to be maintained during this time, for example utilities and property taxes still need to be appropriately managed during probate.
The process of selling an inherited property can involve a number of legal considerations, especially if ownership is divided in the Will. In these cases, each beneficiary will need to come to an agreement about how to proceed. Below we will discuss these considerations in more detail.
What Types of Property Can Be Inherited?
Almost any type of property can be inherited, from cars to clothing. Most Estate Plans will outline how an individual's personal belongings and assets are to be divided. For legal purposes all of this would be classified as property.
When looking at selling inherited property, the conversation focuses predominantly on real estate (such as selling a family home). However, this is just one of several property types that can be inherited:
Money, bank accounts, investment accounts
Investment assets, such as stocks or bonds
Intellectual property including copyrights or patents
Personal or “unproductive” property which includes personal belongings (furniture, clothing, jewelry, cars, etc.)
Real estate, land, commercial buildings
When Can You Sell an Inherited Property?
You can sell an inherited property after ownership claims have been resolved, and the property officially transfers hands. In cases where the Will names more than one heir, each beneficiary will need to come to an agreement about how to proceed. If everyone agrees to sell the house and divide the income, the next step is to clean out the property and begin working with a real estate agent.
There are some cases where an inherited property may be sold before it officially goes through probate. This is most common in situations where the owner died without a Will, or if the Estate does not have enough cash to cover outstanding debts. For example, if your grandparents said they would leave you their house, but never included that in an Estate Plan the property could be sold in a probate sale as part of closing the Estate.
Can Siblings Force the Sale of Inherited Property?
Siblings can force the sale of inherited property if ownership is divided. If the majority of siblings want to sell an inherited home, or if the Estate needs additional funds to cover debts, the sale can be initiated through a probate action.
When a house is left to multiple beneficiaries, the first step is to come to an agreement on either selling or buying out other siblings. If an agreement cannot be reached, a partition action can be filed with probate court to force the sale of the house. At this step, lawyers will get involved to negotiate how to proceed.
If the court approves the sale of the house, the property will be listed and sold for the appraised price. The proceeds from the sale will then be split among the beneficiaries -- even if one heir objected to the sale.
What Happens If I Sell Property That I Have Inherited?
If you sell a property that you inherited, it could trigger certain taxable events. Notably, the sale of an inherited house would result in capital gains taxes. These taxes would be applied to the difference between the property value at the time of inheritance and the final sale price. We will discuss the capital gains tax in more detail below.
Aside from the financial aspects of selling an inherited property, there are also certain responsibilities associated with a real estate transaction to be aware of. Often the person who inherits the house is responsible for removing personal belongings and clearing the property. Once the sale process is initiated, leave yourself time to manage these responsibilities.
If I Sell Inherited Property, Is It Taxable?
The sale of an inherited property is taxable and will be treated as an investment gain by the IRS if you make money on the sale of the house. As mentioned above, the capital gains tax is triggered but it will only apply to the difference between the inherited value and the final sale price. You will generally pay more if your income bracket is higher.
The inherited value is important because the property has likely appreciated since it was first purchased by the decedent. As the beneficiary, you will not be taxed for the entire amount the home has risen in value. Instead, the IRS will use the “stepped-up” basis to determine capital gains taxes.
The capital gains tax will then be applied based on how long you owned the property for. If you sold the house within a year of inheriting it, the short-term capital gains rate would be applied which ranges from 10 to 37 percent. If you owned the inherited property for more than a year, the long-term capital gains rate (which ranges from 0 to 20 percent) would be applied.
Do I Pay Taxes on the Sale of Inherited Property?
You do pay taxes on the sale of inherited property. Aside from capital gains, the sale of an inherited house can also lead to income taxes if it was ever rented during your ownership. For example, let’s say you rented an inherited home to a friend for six months while deciding whether or not to sell it. The rental income you generated during that six-month period would be taxable.
How Do I Avoid Capital Gains Tax When Selling an Inherited Property?
If you want to avoid capital gains tax when selling an inherited property, consider making it your primary residence. Once you live in the property for two years, you can avoid paying capital gains on the sale through the home sale tax exclusion. One way to accomplish this is to sell your own residence and move into the inherited property instead. While this may not work for everyone, it is one option.
Note that capital gains taxes will be avoided if the house is sold at a loss. This is not something to necessarily pursue on purpose, but certain circumstances might demand a quick sale. In these situations, capital gains taxes will not be incurred and you can use the loss to offset other gains in your investment portfolio (if applicable).
Generally, it can be a good idea to work with a financial advisor in the year you sell an inherited property. This is the best way to ensure you make tax-forward decisions, and minimize your overall expenses.
Get Some Expert Help in Selling Inherited Property
An inheritance can be met with a wide variety of reactions. After all, losing a loved one is never easy to go through. When you do receive an inheritance, there are some immediate financial considerations to be aware of -- especially when real estate is involved.
As probate comes to an end, you will need to decide whether to sell or keep the inherited property. This deliberation may involve other family members, especially if the property is divided between siblings. If you ultimately decide to sell the property, meet with a financial advisor to discuss the full scope of tax implications. This can help you protect your finances and make the most of your inheritance.
For those who decide to keep inherited property, there are other financial considerations to make. Do you want to sell your previous resident? Will you operate the inherited property as a rental unit? No matter what you decide, it is important to add the asset to your own Estate Plan. Reach out to our team for help on creating or updating your Will today.
The process of selling inherited property can be somewhat challenging to navigate, particularly in cases where ownership is split. Review the above information as you navigate probate, buyouts, and ultimately the sale of the inherited property.
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