Selling the family home after owners’ deaths
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Dear Mrs Macaulay,

I would like to sell my family home. The title of the house is in my father’s and his mother’s name, both of whom are now deceased. He died leaving my mom and myself living there.

Now my mom has also passed and I would like to sell. Since my name is not on the title, nor a will was done, is it possible for me to sell?

The title says tenants in common (I figure you’d want that piece of information).

The fact that the owners were registered as tenants-in-common means that they held their respective 50 per cent interests separately from each other and when one died, their share would have gone to their separate estates. If they were registered as joint tenants, then when one died before the other, the survivor would become entitled to the entire interest in the property.

The short answer to your question is: No, you cannot just sell it. You will not be able to transfer the property to a purchaser. There are legal applications/processes which must be done and when they are completed and your name is on the title on transmission as the administrator of both your paternal grandmother’s and your father’s estates, with the letters of administration in your possession, then you can sell the premises without taking the further step of you settling the entire legal and beneficial interest on the title on yourself as the sole registered owner.

I say sole registered owner because from the manner in which you stated the circumstances in your letter to me, I have concluded that your paternal grandmother had no other children save for your father. He was therefore her sole beneficiary of her 50 per cent share of the legal and beneficial interest of the family home on her tenancy-in-common holding. If I am correct in this conclusion, after her death your father could have applied to administer her estate and on the conclusion of that process he would have been the sole registered proprietor on the title of the family home by the passing of her 50 per cent to himself and he would then have held the whole 100 per cent of it. Since this was not done, the estate of your paternal grandmother is still the legal entity with the legal and beneficial 50 per cent registered to her during her lifetime. This is also the situation with your father’s 50 per cent interest which is a part of his estate. The current situation then is this, that your father’s estate, as he was your paternal grandmother’s only beneficiary after her estate has been administered, will be made up of her 50 per cent and his 50 per cent of the interest in the family home. This also has to be administered.

The law requires for their respective estates to be administered in law. That is to say, applications must be made for letters of administration for each of their estates. Since it seems that you are your parents’ only beneficiary, that you have no siblings, then you are entitled to file for the letters of administration and when these are granted and the estate duties, stamp duties, and registration fees have all been paid and you are registered on the title as administrator on transmission of their estates, you can then move to sell the property. The fact that nothing was done after your paternal grandmother died and also after your father’s death complicates the situation because the necessary legal applications must still be made.

You must not forget the fact that your mother survived your father’s death and the Intestates Estates and Property Charges Act (which is the law for administration of estates of persons who did not and do not leave last wills and testaments) provides what a surviving spouse is entitled to her deceased’s husband’s estate, which would go to her estate. Since it seems from your letter that you are your parents’ only child, their entire estates would go to you. But if there are siblings, even any your mother had before her marriage to your father, then her estate would also have to be administered and shared among you and your other siblings.

You really require the services of a lawyer to assist you. I trust that you also have the original copy of the registered title for the property. If you do not, an application would have to be made on the basis that it has been lost and for a new one to be issued. All the applications you must make are legally very technical and you therefore need legally competent assistance of a duly qualified attorney-at-law to deal with it all. You could also go to the Administrator General’s Department and report your paternal grandmother’s, your father’s, and your mother’s deaths and have that office do all the necessary applications for letters of administration to be granted to the administrator general in respect of each relevant estate. Whichever you decide to do, whether to retain a lawyer or for you to apply for letters of administration, you must take the original duplicate certificate of title and original certified copies of the three death certificates to them and answer all their questions quickly and honestly. All the applications can be done together and filed at the same time, so do not feel overwhelmed. This is the best that can be done to make up for the time lost by your elders who did not take the legal steps they should have when a registered owner died.

I hope that I have answered your question and that you understand why you need expert assistance either from an attorney-at-law in private practice or from those in the Administrator General’s Department.

All the very best.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women’s and children’s rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.

DISCLAIMER:

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.

Margarette MACAULAY

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