Answer to a question from a reader

Can I stop the sale of my father's house if he died before the sale was completed?

The short answer

No, the deed of sale remains a binding contract

The whole question

Dear Athalie

I am the executor of my late father's property. He passed away while selling his property and, although there is a deed of sale, he only received a quarter of the money he was selling it for. The buyer's lawyer sent me a letter stating that the full amount had been paid. What happens if I do not want to proceed with the deal? Can I repay the buyer on a monthly basis?

The long answer

To start with, the death of a seller before the sale has been completed does not make the sale invalid. In other words, the deed of sale is a binding contract, which continues to be binding after the death of your father. 

In a legal contract such as a deed of sale, there are three essential agreements between the seller and the buyer: 

  • What the property is;

  • The price of the property, which is what the buyer agrees to pay the seller;

  • The obligation of the seller to deliver the property to the buyer.

It is up to the buyer to prove that the full price of the house has been paid. If it can be proved by the buyer’s lawyer that the buyer did indeed pay the full price agreed to in the deed of sale to your late father, the buyer has the right to enforce the deal through a court order.

The buyer could also agree to cancel the sale and allow you to pay back what has been paid (probably with interest).   

It is more likely that you as the executor of the deceased estate of your father will have to transfer the property to the buyer if the full purchase price has indeed been paid.

You could also ask Legal Aid for advice. It is a means-tested organisation so it must assist people who cannot afford a lawyer.

Here are their contact details:

  • Legal Aid Advice Line (Toll-free): 0800 110 110

  • Please-Call-Me number: 079 835 7179

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Sept. 2, 2022, 12:58 p.m.

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Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.