how to avoid losing your inheritance in estate scams

In Michigan, a probate law is contributing to situations in which heirs are being denied their rightful property. The law says that if you don’t open an estate within 42 days of a loved ones’ death, either a creditor or a Public Administrator can open the estate, and they can take control of the assets. This is exactly what has happened to several families profiled in an investigative report by Detroit’s WXYZ

It happens like this.

The Probate Court is responsible for making sure all the assets someone had before they died are given to the rightful heirs. Those assets become part of a person’s estate. If there are no heirs or if the heirs do not open a probate, a state-appointed lawyer called a Public Administrator can take over that estate. However, some Public Administrators may be taking their responsibility to a questionable level.

WXYZ interviewed Joanne Small Zaremba who was one of the victims of this probate injustice. Zaremba had been living with her mother in their childhood home, until her mother passed away in 2009. Their home had been paid off, but upon her mother’s death, Zaremba learned that her mother had fallen behind on paying the house’s property taxes. Zaremba accepted a payment plan with the county to pay off the taxes and thought nothing more of it. That is, until a man appeared at her door last spring to post a notice that a realty company had been hired to sell the property.

“He said we’d like to buy your home and we’ve paid some back taxes for you,” said Joanne in the interview. “Red flags were going off, and I said I’m not signing anything.”

Because the realty company is technically a creditor (it paid the taxes), the company can request a Public Administrator to open the probate, since Zaremba and her family members did not open it themselves within the 42-day window. By opening a probate estate in Zaremba’s mother’s name, the company may be able to sell the home without the family’s consent. Actively searching for unopened probates like this one could allow realty companies to sell properties out from under unsuspecting heirs.

If your loved one owned a home and then died, don’t be fooled by this ploy. Although it is technically allowed under the probate law, you have every right to open up a probate estate yourself and either keep or put the property up for sale, depending on the circumstances. Make sure to know your rights, and work with an experienced probate attorney if you find yourself in this situation. Your home may depend on it.

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Wondering more about What is Estate Planning? Check that video our other Elder Care Whiteboard Videos for more information on wills and estate planning. For Estate Planning, Special Needs Planning, Elder Law, Veterans Benefits, Real Estate, and Business Planning needs contact Glenn R. Matecun by calling 517-548-7400 in Livingston County and 586-751-0779 in Macomb County.

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