When inheriting a house, you may ask yourself, where do I start?  A lot of your decisions moving forward may be based on how you inherited the property, the goals of the heirs, the estates financial situation, and the list goes on.  As usual, we always recommend consulting legal experts when settling an estate, but there are a few things you can do to prevent potential problems.

Secure The Inherited Property

Often times, a significant portion of an estates value is wrapped up in the house and the personal property within.  The first step is to secure the house and it’s contents.  If the house is occupied by an heir, the job becomes easier. If it’s vacant additional steps should be taken.

  • Change the locks if keys have been given out in the past
  • Move valuable personal property to a secure location and create an inventory list of those items. For example, jewelry, watches, collectables, financial documents, antiques, etc…
  • Schedule frequent visits to the home.  Inspect the furnace/air conditioner.  Make sure windows and doors are locked.  Check for: plumbing issues, flooding, vandalism, pests, storm damage, and repairs that may be needed.

If you don’t live nearby or you are unable to get to the property frequently, there are services available that can help you.  If time permits, it’s a good idea to take an inventory of all the assets at this time.  It may be needed when settling an estate or probate.

Check the will

If there is a will, read it.  Wills give heirs the guidance needed to complete the tasks ahead.  In addition, the will typically states who’s in charge, the executor(s).  The executor should have the authority to complete the remaining initial tasks.  In Indiana, if there is no will, an attorney should be consulted and a court will name a ‘personal representative’ to oversee the estate.

Coordinate Mail Delivery

Have the mail forwarded to the address of the executor, personal representative, or trustee.  This prevents delays and ensures that the necessary paperwork is received in a timely manner.

Real Estate Taxes and Mortgages

Check to make sure the real estate taxes and mortgage payments are current for the inherited property.  At times, heirs are unaware of the status of these items.  Heirs may assume that a house has been paid off and then find out later that there were unknown liens associated with the property.  If you find out there is a payment due, get it paid as soon as possible.  Keep records of what payments have been made.  You’ll need accurate records when settling the estate.


Insuring property is very important.  Make sure the house and personal property has valid insurance coverage.  Coverage could be affected by a number of things such as: the value of the property, if the property is vacant, what personal property is on premises, etc.  Consult with an experienced insurance agent for guidance.

Start Assembling Your Team

Of course, your team will include relatives and those close to you that can help you through this process.  It’s also important to assemble a team of professionals experienced in estate and probate issues.  These include:

  • Attorney – as mentioned earlier, you’ll probably want an attorney to handle the legal affairs.
  • Real Estate Professional – whether you decide to live in the property, sell it, or rent it, consulting an expert in inherited real estate will provide great benefit.
  • Financial Professionals – this includes tax professionals and financial advisors.  How you inherit property and the amounts involved can affect your potential decision making. For example, the timing of your actions can have tax consequences.
  • Counselor – counselors can help families that are having difficulties.  These situations can be stressful and moving through this process in a manner that keeps families strong has lasting benefits.

Starting off on the right track can prevent a lot of unnecessary complications when dealing with inherited property.  The Indiana Estate and Probate Helpline is available to assist property owners with answers to questions and to locate pre-screened service providers. (317) 344-8908.  

The author can be reached at mark@indyinherited.com or www.indyinherited.com


Mark McGarvey