Probate and Real Estate Scams to be Aware of

Verifying a will in a probate case and buying/selling a property are two distinct processes, but one similarity between the two is that both can increase your risk of encountering scams.

Why do these events increase the likelihood of being approached by frauds or imposters? Both probate cases and real estate transactions are entered into public record. In a probate case, a copy of a will, an inheritance plan, a list of assets, and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of beneficiaries become publicly available. Real estate transactions are recorded in county land records and often include a copy of the deed, mortgage information, the property’s sale price, and personal information of the new owners. In most counties in the United States, these records are available online–and although having this information readily available for you, your clients, and trustworthy organizations is helpful, it also makes it easy for scammers to access.

People involved in real estate transactions and probate cases should expect an influx of “junk mail” and calls related to their home purchase or family changes. Knowing that they will encounter an uptick in phone calls and mailers, many of which may not be legitimate, can help them spot cons. Encourage your clients to look out for these four common scams that target individuals recently involved in probate cases or property purchases.

  1. Companies may want to buy your property quickly, but on the cheap. Are you looking to sell a property that needs work? Or perhaps the children of a decedent live out of town and want to avoid the hassle of showing a home. Some companies take advantage of these situations by contacting clients, offering to buy the home “as is,” but for a significantly reduced price. Although getting the situation solved might be worth a smaller return for some, alert your client of these offers and advise them to discuss market values with you before accepting one of these “hassle-free” options.
  2. Some mortgage protection life insurance companies and other sellers contact people using info in the public domain. They will call or send a mailer and cite their ages, the sale price of their home, and the name of a mortgage lender in hopes of building their credibility and gaining your clients’ trust. Be on guard, just because a seller has their personal information does not mean that they should be trusted. Contact  professionals they have worked with in the past, like me, or financial planners to see if the product they are being sold would be good for them.
  3.  Property deed sellers often mail letters stating that the client needs to buy a grant deed, transfer deed, etc. Let your client know that if they receive this type of notice, they should feel free to discard the email or letter. As you will receive a copy of your deed from the title agency. Third parties will happily charge them $80-$200 to download, print, and mail the exact same document to which they already have access.
  4.  After losing a family member, you may receive calls from the IRS or a debt collector. Help them be safe by encouraging them to verify outstanding bills they receive on behalf of their decedent. If the bill is legitimate, they should figure out who is responsible to resolve the charge. According to the FTC, a person’s debt does not disappear after they pass, but in many cases, their families are not personally responsible to resolve the debt. These bills usually come out of the decedent’s estate–not out of the pockets of their surviving family. There are exceptions, including cosigners on liabilities or, in some cases a living spouse.

If you need to sell an inherited home and would like guidance and resources to help you, reach out to me at 215-757-7257. I am happy to help!

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