When a property owner dies, the property may change hands in one of several ways. The exact process varies, depending whether there is a will and if so, what provisions it makes. If the estate is small enough that it doesn't need to be probated in your state, a title company might require a waiting period after the death, before insuring clear title from the heirs.
Surviving Spouse or Co-Owner
If you're the surviving spouse of the property owner, or if you co-owned a property or asset with "survivorship" provisions - meaning full ownership passes to one partner in case of the other's death - the property transfers to your sole ownership on the other person's death. A deed is not necessary. If you are the surviving co-owner, however, you may want to record an affidavit verifying the death, to clarify the transfer in your local property records.
All Heirs Sign the Deed
If the property owner died without a will, or intestate, some states permit the property to be transferred if all heirs of the deceased sign the deed. State laws determine who is entitled to property when the owner dies, so this represents the other heirs' willingness to let state law settle the matter. All heirs must sign any deed conveying property owned by the deceased. If one or more of the heirs refuses to sign the deed, then court action may be required to divide the property.
If There's a Court-Appointed Administrator
If there's no will, the court may appoint an administrator to wind up the estate's affairs. If you're that person, you can sign an administrator’s deed to transfer the property. Generally, an administrator may not deed property without a court order. The court may order a sale of the property to a third party to pay debts of the estate, or to divide the property equitably among the heirs.
If There's a Will, There's a Way
Most wills specify an executor, or personal representative, to administer the estate and carry out the deceased person's wishes. If you are the executor, you have the power to sign a personal representative’s, deed to convey the property under the terms of the will. Although the will transfers the property to the heirs or another designated party without a deed, an executor's deed clarifies the transfer for property records. If the property is being sold to divide the proceeds, and you are given power to sell, a personal representative’s deed to the purchaser will transfer the property's title out of the estate.