7 Ways Probate Investors Can Help Settle Estates

by | BiggerPockets.com

Settling an estate can be an overwhelming job for those left behind.

The vast majority of the people involved in the probate process have to deal with all of this in what is undoubtedly a very emotional time their lives. They can be confused about the actual probate process and all of the tasks involved with settling the estate.

When you can step up as the expert, these folks are genuinely happy that you are able to offer solutions to their particular problems.  Probate investors provide a valuable service to the executors and family members.

Here are 7 Common Roadblocks Probate Investors Can Remove

1. Sellers are often perplexed by the legal aspects of settling an estate, and they usually have no idea that you can help them navigate this process.

My closing attorney is one of the most valuable members of my team.  Once I have a house under contract, his office will run the title and determine if everything is in order to close the sale of the house. If not, we know exactly what must be done early on; well before the time I have found my end buyer.

2. Most Executors and Personal Representatives don’t know the exact time they are able to sell the house.

These folks may not be responding to your direct mail pieces because they aren’t aware that they can sell the house early in the process of settling an estate. Part of your job as probate investors should be to educate them on how you can assist them.

Related: Probate Investing: The Basics and Tips for Success

3. Family members may take months and months sorting through paperwork, photographs and other personal items looking for things of importance.

One day they look up and realize that they haven’t actually made any progress cleaning out the interior and exterior of the house and they get discouraged.

4. The people settling the estate are often embarrassed by the appearance and condition of the property, and they hesitate to even call a probate investor for this reason.

In these cases they will often put off doing anything.  When a seller mentions the condition of the house when you first speak to them, if you can put their mind at ease by saying this is pretty typical (which it is) you can often remove the final stumbling block for the person settling an estate to move forward.

5. When they are nearing the end of the probate process and they still have a mess, they often lock the door and walk away.

You know the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind”. They just can’t face having to finish the job of cleaning out the house. This is one of the most common problems you will find in probates and one of the easiest to solve. You should always offer to finish cleaning out the house as part of your offer.

6. They have no idea that probate investors can take care of liens, back taxes, house payments that are in arrears and other types of issues like these.

Once the Executor understands that these costs can be rolled into the closing, this is one more roadblock that you can remove.

7. Executors and Personal Representatives that are trying to save money with the probate attorney and do most of the work themselves, often miss one of the things that need to be done before the estate can be settled.

I send the contract over to my closing attorney immediately when I am purchasing a home so I don’t have any last minute surprises.

Related: Working with Probates: Overcoming the Challenges

We are in the Problem Solving Business

Whatever it is that is holding them up; preventing them from selling the property, that is the problem you need to solve.

After all, we are not really in the “house” business. We are in the problem solving business.  This is especially true for probate investors.

About Author

Sharon Vornholt

Sharon has been investing in real estate since 1998. She owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. In January of 2008 she took the leap of closing her business to become a full time real estate investor.


  1. Hi Sharon,

    I have been targeting probates for over six months now with limited success and no deals yet. I have rotated between professional letters, yellow letters and postcards. I must be doing something wrong as my response rate is very low. If I could just get them on the phone I know I have a great shot, but I can’t get the phone to ring. I have had a lot of success on the other hand with absentee owners. Do you have any advice for marketing to probates?

    • Hi Matt –

      You will pretty much get zero response from postcards and yellow letters with probates. You should only use white letters. What are you saying in your letter?

      The folks settling estates often don’t do anything for a year. It depends on the individual. I hear from a lot of people at around the 1 year mark. Each month you should be adding the new people, while you continue to mail to the others. Every 5 or 6 months you need to scrub your list and resume your direct mail campaign.

      I have written about probates and marketing in general both here and on my blog.


      • Sharon,

        My letters usually acknowledge the loss of the family members and send condolences. Then they go into offering to help them by purchasing the home they inherited.

        When you say a white letter are you talking about just a printed professional letter, or handwritten letter. Any help is appreciated.

  2. How much of this information do you include in your marketing or is this mostly saved for the direct contact after the mailings?
    Seems like there could be a delicate balance of making some of these points known but could also make the letter very long and intimidating if you give too much detail.

    • Shaun, Call Lance at US Lead List, he’ll talk your ear off with how to talk to the older folks you’ll be negotiating with over estates. Different letter and talk per him.

      866.711.1688 (ask for Lance) He can email you a link to audio and letter examples.

      My problem with buying lists, is that they sell the same list to multiple investors AND agents. I gave that up. I got a few calls and they said they had a stack of cards and letters. The problem is ALSO what zip / county you buy. If you are buying the popular county that’s the problem, there’s 50 other folks mailing that same seller.

      We’ve moved to driving 1 hr for our deals / rehabs to move into counties where funds and lazier investors won’t work. Laughably my rentals that are now in popular counties that I bought at the bottom when there where few buyers are now getting post cards every month from different investors. Few ever re-mail (5-7 re-mailings) to get a call back. Just one post card then gone, then next month yet another investor, then gone!!

      There’s many reasons why we get few call backs from a direct mail campaign.

      • Shaun and Curt –

        There are other investors mailing to them; that’s true. But here is the thing; most of those other investors will quit mailing after a few mailings. A whole lot of executors don’t even think about selling the house until around the 1 year mark. By that time, most of those other investors will be out of the picture.


  3. Hi Sharon,

    -when u say “scrub you list after 5-6 months and resume marketing campaign” what is the best way to do this? do you look up each lead individually on the MLS or is there an easier way to do this? I have over 600 leads from 2013 that i would like begin marketing to again but seem very time consuming to figure which have sold. Is there an easier way?

    • What type of leads are you talking about? Most of the time, you will have to look them up on the tax assessor’s site to see if they are sold.That is how you would scrub a probate list for instance. Now if they are AO’s, you can get your list provider to run a new list.


  4. Mario T.

    I have access to the executor/administrator phone number. Do you recommend me to call them or just use direct mail? I feel like calling would be better b/c they would have a better connection with me on the phone than through a letter, whether it be positive or negative. However, I see how mailing is more subtle. What do you suggest?

  5. Executors or Personal Representatives and Administrators already have an enormous task on their plate. Most beneficiaries would rather have cash proceeds than joint ownership of property. That is a huge headache for them.
    When you provide a solution for them, they’re love you for it and even accept a less than favorable deal for them if it means a solution to their troubles.

  6. Sharon Vornholt

    @Mario T – I never call probates until they have contacted me. People hate it. You need to be mindful of their situation which is they have lost someone they love.

    They almost always want to sell the property, but they want to do it when they are mentally ready.


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