One of the hardest things you will ever do is settle your parents’ estate. Losing a loved one is difficult enough, but juggling the legalities, sibling issues, tax ramifications and your own emotions can intensify the stress. This article is not meant as a substitute for the professionals who deal in estates; but, rather, it will give you some idea of what to expect and allow you to plan ahead to ensure that the process goes smoothly.

Authority to sign:
The first step is to talk to an attorney who can file a petition in probate court on your behalf. If the deceased had a will, your goal is to get Letters of Testamentary. If not, you will need Letters of Administration. You cannot legally sign a contract on behalf of the estate until a judge issues one of these instruments. And technically, the estate owns the property; so, the signature should be “The estate of the deceased’s name, your name, Executor.”

Check on the dock permit:
Sometimes the elderly forget to renew their dock permits. The Corps of Engineers has been somewhat forgiving in these situations, but the homebuyers may not be. If you can’t find the latest dock permit in the person’s papers, you’ll need to get a copy from the Corps. Normally, the best way to do that is to drop by their office Tuesday through Thursday, but they are not open to the public right now due to the pandemic. Call 770-945-9531 as soon as possible to get that ball rolling. All lake agents will ask for the dock permit as part of an offer, and the Corps is swamped right now. Don’t wait on this.

Choose a spokesperson:
One of the hardest elements of selling an estate is trying to reach an agreement between all the siblings. Early in the process, the siblings should choose a spokesperson for the group. It’s almost always the executor if one has been named in the will. It helps if you decide collectively before the property is even listed, who will be the tiebreaker if the siblings disagree. Discourage the attitude that, “We must get (fill in the blank) for the property.” The market doesn’t care what you need to get for the property. Today’s buyers are very well informed thanks to the internet, and they know lake values. You will get what the market will bear, and all parties should start with that expectation.

Choose an experienced agent in selling lake property, estates:
There is a lot to navigate in selling estates on the lake. Almost everyone has a friend in real estate, but there are many pitfalls in selling these unique, specialized properties. Your friend will understand why you went with an expert.

Clean out the house:
Very few of us keep our house in a ready-to-sell state. This is especially true if the homeowner was elderly. If their furniture is fairly current, you can keep that in the house. But all of the tchotchkes, family pictures, lace curtains, ’80s furniture, silk plants, and other general clutter need to be removed from the home. Most stagers recommend removing all curtains which tend to be dated and block the light. The goal is to make the home look as large as possible. The more floor or counter tops that show, the bigger the home appears. Most important, remove anything that blocks the lake view. That beautiful view adds a lot of value to the home, so showcase it.

To repair, or not to repair:
This is one of the most important issues to decide when selling an estate home. Normally, you would fill out a Seller’s Disclosure for a listed property, and it becomes an exhibit for any offer that comes in.

However, in the case of an estate, many people do not fill out the disclosure because they don’t know all the details of previous repairs. There is an option on real estate listings to sell a home as-is without a disclosure. If you choose this option, be aware that this is likely to lower your sales price, and almost all buyers will still have the home inspected during their due diligence period. Even though you listed a home as-is, they may still ask for certain types of repairs. You don’t have to do those repairs, but they may choose to walk away from the deal as a result. Once flaws in the home have been identified in an inspection, they must be disclosed to potential buyers.

If you only do one thing:
PAINT! A nice, neutral paint can change the whole look of an older home. Buyers can see their furniture in the room, and it smells fresher. You can even paint over old wallpaper if it is in good shape. Other helpful improvements include getting carpets cleaned, freshening up landscaping, pressure-washing exteriors and cleaning windows. Also, make sure all light fixtures have bulbs. Older homes tend to be dark, so you want to invite in all the light you can.

This is an emotional, trying process. Be sure to check with the experts before you start, but you’ll get through it. Hopefully, these tips will help.

Many thanks to Kevin Salisbury, Real Estate Attorney in Cumming, who contributed to this article.