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How can my children prove they own my houses after I die?

I’m a 92-year-old widow. My will leaves everything equally to my four children, with one daughter as executor. What must she do regarding the probate court? I have two houses, one in Florida and one in Nassau County. What must my children do to prove the houses are theirs in order to sell them?

Your executor will hire a lawyer to file your will in probate court. (This could be — but doesn’t have to be — the attorney who drew it up.) The court validates your will and issues “letters testamentary” authorizing her to carry out its instructions.

Your children won’t have to prove ownership of the houses. After your will is probated, it’s a public document, explains Christopher Ulto, a Garden City real estate lawyer. “The buyer’s title insurer will check it to make sure that the sellers own the house.”

Legally, a certificate of the court’s “letters testamentary” is the only document your executor needs to sell your New York house and distribute the proceeds in equal shares to herself and her siblings. Buyers sometimes also ask for a copy of the death certificate, says Joseph Bollhofer, a St. James elder law attorney, but that’s really not necessary because it was filed with the court in the probate proceeding.

She’ll have to retain an attorney admitted to the bar in Florida to file for ancillary probate there before she can sell the Florida house, Bollhofer says. The Florida court will then ask the New York court for official (“exemplified”) copies of all the pertinent documents — the death certificate, the will, and the letters testamentary — as well as the signatures of the New York judge and chief clerk.

THE BOTTOM LINE Your will is the document that proves your heirs own the houses you left them.


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