Did you inherit a property in Costa Rica and you don’t know what to do?
First, you should check whether the deceased left a will in Costa Rica. If you not, you have to go through the probate process first. This will take time. If there is a will in Costa Rica, a short probate process will still be necessary.
I am not getting into the legal part of wills, probate and inheritance in this article. For that, I suggest you check out this video by attorney Roger Petersen as a starting place.
If you inherit a property in Costa Rica, you should start by hiring a lawyer here. This lawyer should take you through the probate process before you list the property for sale. You might not even have the power of attorney to sell. Any action to sell before the probate process is finalized is a waste of time, money and effort.
Ask around for a recommended lawyer or search on the Internet for one. Always choose a lawyer you can communicate with easily in a common language.
The property documents
If you know where the property title documents are, put them in safekeeping. Don’t hand out any original documents to anyone, unless your attorney requests them. When you do, request a set of copies to be authenticated by a Notary Public as a true copy of the original.
If the property is owned by a corporation, look for the legal corporate books and the shares of the corporation.
Check the title and see if there are any liens or mortgages that need to be taken care of.
Discuss with your attorney who will be the executor of the estate. The executor is in charge of finding the property (you might not know where it is), maintaining it, and selling or renting it. The executor should also take care of property tax, corporation tax and luxury home tax payments if this applies.
Owned by a corporation
For many years, attorneys would sell property buyers the idea of purchasing the property in a corporation. The new owner could then just endorse the shares on the back and hand them to the heirs. Nowadays, to be able to sell any asset owned by a corporation, an agreement to sell must be issued by the board of the corporation. Contact your attorney for more information on this.
Keep in mind that the probate process will take a while. You need to make sure that the possessions of the deceased are protected, so it is important you move fast and avoid delays on your end.
Inheriting a property in Costa Rica may sound like a great deal. However, if you are the executor, you’ll now be in charge of what can be a puzzle. We often get calls from heirs who don’t even know where the property is located.
If you know where the property is located, take possession as soon as possible. If you don’t, but you have the title documents, the lawyer of the deceased might know where the property is. Or you can ask a real estate agent, who needs a survey map to find it.
Squatter rights give a person the rights to a property if the property owner allows that person to use or maintain possession of the property for more than a year. This is the reason you want to move fast in taking possession when you inherit a property in Costa Rica.
If the deceased had any employees, such as a caretaker, a housekeeper or a gardener, make sure these employees do not acquire squatter rights. Ask your lawyer how to legally start the employee termination process and pay them what’s due.
Property Types: Land
If the property you inherit is raw land, you first want to secure the property. Make sure the property is clean and not overgrown. Put a fence around it if it doesn’t have one; you might need a surveyor to find out where the fence should go. Do make sure that if the neighbors find out that the owner passed away, they see someone is taking charge of the property.
When you inherit a property in Costa Rica that is a house, you have three options: First, rent it out until the probate is solved. Understand that lease agreements in Costa Rica are for 3 years.
The second option is to get a caretaker or someone to take care of the maintenance if you cannot do it yourself.
Finally, talk to a real estate agent, maybe there is a possibility for a rent-to-own of the property.
If the property you inherit is a condo, this is possibly the best scenario. The advantage of a condo is that it can be left unoccupied until you can sell it. Nonetheless, the executor of the estate will need to keep paying the HOA fees.
Real estate agent
If you inherit a property in Costa Rica, you might think you do not need the assistance of a real estate agent. If you know your way around the ways things are done in Costa Rica, you’re lucky: then you can do an For Sale By Owner that can save some money. Do keep in mind that having a reliable agent, who knows the area where the property is located, can be of great assistance.
Ivo Henfling, a Dutch expat who has lived in Costa Rica since 1980, founded the American-European Real Estate Group back in 1999 which was the first functioning MLS with affiliate agents from coast to coast. You can contact Ivo at (506) 2289-5125 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in 2017