An crucial task for Conveyancing Solicitors acting on the purchase of a house is to check that the person selling it is legally entitled to do so. It might seem a statement of the obvious that the sellers should own the property being sold, but sometimes they are not shown as the registered owner at the Land Registry.
Fridaysmove Conveyancing Solicitor Stephanie Gerstler was acting in 2010 for the buyers of a freehold house in Mather Crescent, Sheffield South Yorkshire S9. When checking the draft contract and papers received from the Sheffield office of Solicitors Taylor & Emmett at 20 Arundel Gate, S1 2PP she noticed that the name of the person given as the vendor in the sale contract was not the same as that of the registered proprietor in the registry title entries.
On referring to the sales particulars supplied by selling agents (Winkworth office at 66 Campo Lane, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S1), Stephanie noticed that the property was being sold by an executor. She therefore asked the seller's Conveyancing Solicitors to supply a copy of the grant of probate as confirmation that the person selling could legally transfer the property.
When a property owner dies, and the property is to be sold, the person selling must show the buyer that they are legally entitled. If the deceased left a will, then legal ownership passes to their executors who can apply for a grant of probate. If there is no will, then a relative such as the widow or a child can apply for letters of administration. Even if there is little other money or property, it is still necessary to obtain a grant of probate or letters of administration to be able to transfer ownership of a house. The Land Registry will insist that the Local Conveyancing Solicitors acting for the buyer produces a proper copy of the grant, so Stephanie had to ask the seller's solicitors for this.
Sometimes when the owner has died, a property is marketed before the grant has been obtained. Agents do not always check about this, and sometimes delays are caused because the need for a grant is only discovered when a Conveyancing Solicitor is instructed on the sale. Fortunately in this case the grant of probate had already been issued, and the vendor's Conveyancing Solicitor provided a certified copy. This showed that the person selling was indeed the executor of the deceased registered proprietor.
The local search with Sheffield city council showed that there was a local land charge registered against the property. This apparently related to a loan to the deceased owner for works to the property, which had to be repaid when the property was sold. Stephanie obtained an undertaking from the other Conveyancing Solicitor to repay this out of the proceeds on completion, and to ask the council to remove the entries relating to the charge, so that the buyer would not inherit the debt.
All these points were satisfactorily dealt with so that the purchase was completed quickly, and the Land Registry then registered the change of ownership.
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