By Connie Adair

Selling a family home after a parent dies can be an emotional and stressful time. Some heirs may be in a hurry to dispose of the property and move on. However, selling a property owned by an estate isn’t a quick or easy process, says lawyer Barry Fish of Fish and Associates in Thornhill, Ont., who has been practicing real estate and estate law since 1973. “You’re not going to list the home the next day,” he says.

Fish provides the following general advice based on Ontario estate and real estate law. It’s important to note that laws vary in different parts of the country, so ensure your client hires a lawyer who has experience in your province. Estate law is intricate, so you need to find an experienced lawyer to help you manoeuvre through the system, Fish says.

Assuming there’s a will, as soon as the death certificate is issued, he says, the power goes to the executor. The first thing the executor must do is determine what the assets are – the value of the property and “other stuff” such as bank accounts and investments.

This is when the executor will contact a real estate agent for an appraisal. Fish says as their agent, it’s important that you have experience in handling estate sales, or at the very least, that someone in your office has the necessary experience.

The executor will provide the appraisal and other financial information to the lawyer, who will prepare the application for probate. The time between filing for probate to the granting of probate can vary greatly, from a few weeks to six months or more, depending on the backlog. Some jurisdictions are quicker than others. (It depends on the jurisdiction where the deceased lived, not the location of the property.)

An experienced lawyer will save time, because, Fish says, the courts are picky and probate forms that are filled out incorrectly will be returned, which causes further delays.

While waiting for the granting of probate, the executor must tend to the property, ensuring the insurance is in good standing and bills are paid, Fish says. An oversight in paying utility bills, for example, could result in burst pipes and water damage if the heat is turned off in winter.

While waiting for the application for probate to be granted, the time should be spent wisely. This is the perfect time to speak to your client and come up with a plan to determine the best time to list the property for sale. Often it is 90 or 120 days before probate is expected.

Fish says properties can be listed any time during probate, but the listing agent should be aware of the delay due to probate.


  1. Good article except the appraisal comment is not correct.
    As it happens RECO had this very topic an article in the STAR on Saturday.
    An appraisal can only be done by someone who has the qualifications to to do one. Real Estate agents do Market Evaluations. Financial institutions and some estates require a full appraisal which is a much longer and more detailed form.

  2. It has always been my understanding during my near four-decade real estate career relative to estate appraisals that real estate sales reps can only provide an “opinion of value,” not an official appraisal.

    Does probate currently actually accept an agent opinion of value or is an official appraisal from a dedicated registered appraiser required. Maybe things have changed in recent times in this regard.

    I was invited to list many estate sales over the years, both by lawyers working the estate file and by bank specific estate departments.

    Fortunately in each situation all the pre-work was in place and I had been provided all the necessary back up supporting materials so that meant there were no hiccups. It was stipulated up front what fees (commission) would be paid and offered to a co-op in sub-agency days (up to the co-op rep after buyer agency became official to arrange any top-ups as part of their buyer agency contract).

    I was fortunate always to have had the opportunity to work with skilled professional executors and or lawyers involved. Even transactions involving murdered owners on title as well as natural deaths having occurred at the subject properties. Even in cases of properties where suicides had happened. All estate transactions need to be dealt with with particular circumspect. Orderly discretion.

    Myself being an “i” dotter and “t” crosser and excessively big record keeper helped in getting to closing in a tidy fashion. Sad as the occasion was for family these were some of the least complicated real estate business transactions from an agent perspective.

    I never ever had trouble marketing a vacant property and each property estate sale always sold at fair market value, even occasionally above proper official list price in multiple offer situations. Not terribly different than working with vacant corporate relocation properties.

    Carolyne L

  3. We work with a lot of estates and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is as a Real Estate agent to communicate with the Estate Lawyer to determine the likely date probate will be granted and to build flexibility into the closing date in the event there are delays

  4. If you know that you will be called on to be executor for someone who owns property in Quebec and the will is in Ontario as an example, save the estate time and money by having the individual obtain a will in advance in Quebec for that particular aspect of the estate. Wills in Quebec are registered and aren’t required to go through the time and expense of the probate process. For the sake of a few hundred dollars, the executor saves thousands of dollars and his work is greatly simplified

  5. Great article – though it misses one of the big challenges that I encounter in my work continually … dealing with the contents. Clearing an estate can be done in a number of ways, depending on the unique circumstances of the estate and the condition of the contents. In my work as a professional organizer, I’ve helped many clients sort through the lifetime of contents in a home and find suitable ways to recover some of the value, divert good from landfill, and safely handle contents that have been damaged by mould or infestation. Getting professional assistance for this part of the process is worth the spend to help expedite the process and alleviate the emotional and physical challenges that go along with the process.

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