We are in contract but the seller passed away, now what?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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We are in contract but the seller passed away, now what?

The seller unexpectedly passed away over the weekend. We have money in escrow on the house and have all the contracts signed and have had an inspection. We were suppose to close on the 8th, Im due to have my second child in June. We really want this house but what do we do now.

Asked on March 19, 2019 under Real Estate Law, Connecticut


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

The contract is enforceable against the seller's "estate"--basically, a legal entity which comes into being on death and owns everything he left behind, and whose purpose is to pay bills or debts, honor any obligations, then distribute the remainder of the asserts to the heirs and beneficiaries. The contract is enforceable against the estate because it's not a "personal services" contract--i.e. not a contract for the seller to have personally rendered services, like performing somewhere. Personal services contracts terminate on death; other "executory" contracts, or contracts to do something, do not, and become obligations of the estate. So the estate should go through with the closing, and if it does not voluntarily do so, you can file a lawsuit against the estate for "specific performance": to force the estate to sell, as per the contract. So you still have the right to buy the home.
That's the good news; the bad news is to expect delays--possibly significant ones. The estate legally cannot do anything until someone is appointed the executor (if there was a will) or administrator/personal representative (if no will) of the estate--only such a person has the legal right to do anything with the house. Even if everyone involved--e.g. the seller's family, etc.--is 100% willing to move ahead, they cannot until the executor or personal representative is appointed, and that could take months. And if they refuse to voluntarily honor the committment to sell, you'd have to sue, which can easily add another year or more to the process.
It may also be difficult to get your escrow back quickly, if you were wanted to terminate the contract for breach (not closing when they should have), since again, only an executor or personal representative has the legal authority to release it.
Through no one's fault, you are in a difficult situation. You are advised to retain an attorney to help you navigate it as best as possible.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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