Manipulative, predatory, and legal: Abuse of Michigan estate laws and the effort to fix it
If you've ever lost a loved one, you know that the grief is almost unbearable.
But imagine a scam that makes money off your loved one's estate on top of that.
Two bills introduced in the Michigan State House today seek to make sure it will be a crime for crooked real estate companies and public arbitrators to do just that.
“We have rightful heirs that are falling victim to a very unscrupulous conspiracy that involves a real estate speculator and somebody called a public administrator who is part of the state probate court system,” Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner said.
He along with the Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown recently uncovered the scam when they started to notice a trend.
“We had relatives who overcame the grief of losing a relative, recognized that there were delinquent taxes on mom or dad’s property, took the responsible step of coming to our office, worked out a monthly payment plan to take the responsibility on debt that they probably didn’t even know about […] they then get an eviction notice from this real estate company saying that they have to leave the property," Meisner said.
What Meisner and Brown uncovered was a real estate speculator who was scanning tax records and death notices in Oakland County for high value properties and then tipping off a former public administrator to initiate a probate estate. They would then have the administrator hire them to manage the property and sell it.
But how would they make their millions?
Both would bill the estate, usually in excess of their normal fees.
“We have instances where they completely excluded the rightful heirs,” Meisner said.
He said he and Brown found dozens of cases in Oakland County and throughout the state just like this one.
“I heard from a friend in the real estate community who said that there are now seminars teaching this conspiracy," he said.
That's why Meisner said the bills are needed to not only "shut them down and make sure that we don’t only protect property rights in Michigan, but that we don’t prey on people.”
Meisner recommends that until then, Michiganders who lose loved ones should make sure that they file a probate estate within 42 days of a death before the scammers do.
If the bills pass, he said it will not only double this window of time, but it would require potential heirs to be notified of any pending claims.
Meisner said it would make such scams which are not explicitly illegal right now in the state, a crime.
"This will be added as a criminal offense in Michigan," he said. "When you talk to people about it and describe what happens they say, 'My God! That has to be against the law.' But it's not crystal clear. But with these bills passing, it will be a crime in Michigan."