The Philadelphia Probate Process and Selling Family Real Estate

A major and very common issue that I come across as a probate and real estate attorney in Philadelphia (the Pennsylvania suburbs and New Jersey as well!), is the question of what to do with a piece of residential real estate after the owner, someone in a client’s family, dies. For example, I am currently dealing with a piece of land in a hot neighborhood; a piece of land that was probably only worth $2,000 ten years ago, and now is worth $50,000 (the market value growth of property in certain parts of Philadelphia is truly amazing).

My client is the only heir to the property. It was purchased by his parents almost eighty years ago, his father died in the seventies and then his mother died in the eighties. After that, the house was allowed to fall into disrepair and eventually was demolished by the city. The land still exists obviously, and recognizing the potential value, the client came to me to see what I could do to help him sell it.

There are a few main hurdles to jump through before you can actually sell this property.  First, to move a piece of property that is owned by a long-deceased relative, you have to establish your right as the heir of the property. Since my client was the only child, and since his dad predeceased his mom (and thereby transferring his right to hers because they were married), all we had to do was follow the Pennsylvania Probate process, by opening his mom’s estate and getting my client installed as the Administrator.

As his probate and real estate lawyer, I file a petition online with the Registrar of Wills. Then, I go down to City Hall, present a death certificate for both of his parents, pay a fee and bring my client in to sign on as Administrator of his mom’s estate.  At this point, we now have legal authority to transfer the property from the mom’s Estate to a potential buyer.

However, there is more. Now we have to see what the property is worth (for my client) and establish what we need to sell it for. The property in my client’s case was riddled with debt. There were open mortgages, nuisance liens, twenty years of unpaid property taxes, along with the accrued interest and penalties. As his lawyer, I came up with a list of all the proposed items that needed to be paid off, and then made phone calls to all the agencies claiming the property owed them money, with the hope of negotiating their liens down to get more money into my client’s pocket at the time of the property sale. In most cases, there are requests for interest and penalty waivers that can be processed with the city to lower the burden slightly, and they have a highly probable chance of being approved if you handle it correctly.

After negotiating with the various agencies and debt collectors, I presented my client with a payoff amount, and then he sets the hopeful sale price well above that number, we connect with realtor friends of ours and see what kind of magic we can make happen.

All of that before we even found a buyer. It is a long and drawn out process, but if you or anyone you know lives in Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs or New Jersey, and needs help with a property or an empty lot of real estate owned by a deceased family member, do not hesitate to call our offices at (267) 603-2493, of if you are in New Jersey at (856) 258-0067.

Joe Console focuses on all real estate law matters including purchase/sale, leasing, investment, probate and tangled title. He can be reached at 267-603-2493 or