Probate is simply the process of administering a decedent’s estate. Most of us have heard the stories about how long and headache filled the probate process usually is, and we dread it when we actually have to face it.
The reality, though, is that done right, the probate process for a house can be as simple as four easy steps. The flip side is that both the dread and simplicity often open people up to certain probate scams. Let’s take a look.
The Probate Process for a House – How to Avoid Getting Scammed
Probate Process for a House
Without the right kind of trust in place, probate usually follows a person’s passing. Probate is the process by which the decedent’s debts are settled and his or her property (held on his or her name alone and not otherwise legally distributed) is transferred to beneficiaries and heirs.
Typically, the probate process follows four steps.
- The first step involves filing a petition with the probate court to admit the will and appoint an executor or, if there’s no will, to appoint an administrator of the estate. A hearing date is set, and notice of the hearing is published locally.
- After being appointed by the court, the decedent’s personal representative gives notice to all creditors, and an inventory of the estate is made.
- After determining which claims are legitimate, the personal representative pays all expenses, debts, and taxes from the estate. Sometimes, this involves selling estate assets to meet obligations.
- Assets (legal title to a house, for instance) are disbursed according to the decedent’s wishes expressed in the will or, in case there is no will, according to the state’s intestate succession laws.
And that’s it for the probate process for a house and for the entire estate as well. Just be wary about any scams that may pop up along the way.
Common Probate Scams
These are some new twists on old scams that owe their re-birth (and effectiveness) chiefly to the Internet and email. They always, however, target the vulnerable.
- Probate Avoidance Scam – The perpetrators of this scam usually target the elderly. It involves persuading victims to buy fraudulent products that purport to help them avoid probate, for example, a very expensive living trust kit. Once the scammers have the money in their hands, they either never deliver or provide a product that is actually legally useless.
- Inheritance/Estate Tax Scam – Some states still levy an inheritance or estate tax. Using a trusted person’s or organization’s name, scammers contact potential executors/personal representatives informing them that they stand to inherit a bunch of money. The only catch is that – because in these states the tax must be paid before probate can go forward – the victims must first send the scammers an inflated tax.
- Fraudulent Listings Scam – This one owes its effectiveness to the popularity of sites like Craigslist for home shoppers, especially renters, and applies particularly to the probate process for a house. Scammers research the property of recently deceased individuals and advertise it for rent. Then, when the scammers collect the deposit and first month’s rent, they disappear, leaving the people engaged in probate to deal with the upset victim.
If you’re facing probate, especially the probate process for a house, it’s probably not as ominous and frightening as it first seems. Knowing what it involves and being aware of the common probate scams are good first steps – but there’s more to consider.