(This is one of a series of posts about 2011 legislation.)
Most well-drafted wills expressly give the independent executor the power to sell real property. However, some wills do not include a power of sale provision. Also, when the distributees of an intestate estate agree on the appointment of an independent administrator, that administrator serves without the benefit of a power of sale provision. In those cases, when can the independent administrator sell real property without the joinder of the distributees? Under prior law, there was no clear answer to this question. As a result, most title companies would not insure title if an independent administrator without the power of sale tried to sell real property of the estate, unless the distributees joined in the conveyance.
SB 1198 attempts to clarify the rules about sales of real property by independent administrators and to provide a means for independent administrators with no express power of sale to obtain the clear authority to sell real property.
New Section 145A permits the distributees of an estate to give the independent administrator the power of sale in cases where there is no will or where the will does not contain language authorizing him or her to sell real property. The distributees may give the independent administrator the power of sale by signing a consent prior to the appointment of the independent administrator, whereupon the court will include the power to sell in the order appointing the independent administrator. Thus, if the proposed independent administrator knows in advance that he or she may need to sell real property, he or she may ask the distributees to sign a consent giving the independent administrator the power of sale and file these consents with the application for appointment. The court, seeing that the distributees have consented to giving the independent administrator the power of sale, can include the power of sale in the order appointing the independent administrator. This permits title companies and other third parties to rely on that order when the independent administrator wishes to sell real property. If the independent administrator waits until after he or she is appointed to get the power of sale, it is too late – the distributees also must sign the deed (unless the sale is necessary to pay expenses of administration, funeral expenses and expenses of last sickness of decedent, and allowances and claims against the estate – see below.)
New Section 145C confirms that an independent executor has the power to sell real property if that power is expressly given to him or her in the will. In most cases in the Probate Code, the term “independent executor” includes “independent administrators.” This is not the case in Section 145C, however. While an independent executor has the power of sale given in the will, an independent administrator with will annexed does not, since the testator is deemed to have given the power of sale only to the persons he or she named as independent executors in the will and not to an unnamed person later appointed as independent administrator.
Section 145C also provides that, unless limited by the terms of a will, both independent executors and independent administrators have the same power of sale for the same purposes as a personal representative has in a supervised (dependent) administration, but without the requirement of court approval and without the need to comply with the procedural requirements applicable to a supervised administration. Section 341 provides that a personal representative in a supervised administration with court approval may sell property when it appears necessary or advisable in order to:
(1) Pay expenses of administration, funeral expenses and expenses of last sickness of decedents, and allowances and claims against the estates of decedents.
(2) Dispose of any interest in real property of the estate of a decedent, when it is deemed to the best interest of the estate to sell such interest.
Clearly under new Section 145C an independent executor or independent administrator may sell real property if necessary to pay expenses, allowances and claims (Section 341(1)) regardless of whether the will contains a power of sale and so long as the terms of the will do not limit the power of sale. It is not so clear if an independent executor or independent administrator without an express power of sale may sell real property “when it is deemed to the best interest of the estate” (Section 341(2)). Section 145C(b) says he or she has the same power of sale for the same purposes as a dependent administrator, and a dependent administrator may apply to the court for a “best interest” sale, so it appears that independent executors and administrators are given this power. However, Section 145C(c) provides that a good faith unrelated purchaser of real property is protected if there is a power of sale given to the independent executor in the will, if the court grants a power of sale in the order appointing the independent executor or independent administrator, or if “the independent executor or independent administrator provides an affidavit, executed and sworn to under oath and recorded in the deed records of the county where the property is located, that the sale is necessary or advisable for any of the purposes described in Section 341(1) of this code.” Since Section 341(1) permits sales to pay administrative expenses, allowances and claims, while Section 341(2) permits “best interest” sales, there is no third-party protection for “best interest” sales.
After chopping through the bushes on Sections 145A and 145C for a while, it appears that the power of sale in an independent administration may be summarized as follows:
Section 145C(c)(2) makes clear that the signature or joinder of a devisee or heir is not required as to acts undertaken in good faith reliance on the independent executor’s affidavit that the sale is for the purpose of paying administrative expenses, allowances or claims. Section 145C(c)(3) makes clear that the fact that an independent executor or administrator has the power to sell real property does not relieve him or her from any duty owed to a devisee or her in relation, directly or indirectly, to the sale.
Sections affected: Probate Code Sections 145A and 145C.