Vacant property - owners unable to locate trust document - SoCal probate/estate planning referral?

3 Replies

Hello - Trying to purchase an abandoned home - the house is owned by a trust, the owner passed away 15 years ago. We are working with the family to acquire the property. Our escrow company needs a Trust Certification for escrow.  The family contact doesn't remember where the trust document is located anymore. We did a prelim title report and there is no recorded trust. We will continue to dig of course, but what is the recourse if the document is in fact lost? 

Estate planning/probate attorney referrals also very welcome (if that's the appropriate thing). This is a very small deal (especially for California standards), but hopefully more down the pipeline. 

Thank you!

You'll probably have to go the probate route if you can't find the trust docs.  Intestate probate can kill a small deal if there are multiple heirs or estate debt, especially Medi-Cal debt. So try to find the trust docs.

Who is this family contact that you are working with? Do they believe they are the successor trustee and/or a beneficiary?  

Was the property initially purchased in a trust or put into a trust?  If you look at the deed that put the property into the trust there might be some clues there.  If the deed was prepared by an attorney or notarized at an attorney's office, that might be a clue as to who prepared it. There may be other recorded docs as well that might give clues to who the decedent used for legal help.

If you want to send me the address I can pull the docs and see to see if there are any clues.  My email is in my signature.

Wow! Thank you Kristine! Very helpful. Ok - sounds like if it goes the intestate probate route then this deal is a no-go. Good to know.

I just sent you an email with relevant info.

To answer your questions:

1. The family contact is the grandson. He thinks he's the only one listed on the trust, but he's not sure.

2. The property was put into a trust after it was initially purchased. Prelim title report contains a quitclaim deed transferring ownership from the descendant to a revocable living trust under his name, with the descendant listing himself as the trustee. Recording was requested by the descendant, not by an attorney. 

These are tricky deals. I've had quite a few just like this (no surprise since I only work private and trust deals for 25+ years).

If you're trying to buy the trust asset (the real property) you'll need to find a wa to either control or pass title. Without the original trust, it's pretty hard to guess at what the settlor/grantor wanted.

This is one of the downsides to estate planning. Really! Someone goes to the trouble and cost of creating a well-thought out plan and then the documentation is lost. I've probably dealt with nearly a hundred or so, without exaggeration. Either they can't find the original document, trust-mill attorney didn't fund the trust by transferring title, or client took property out of the trust to get a loan then failed to transfer back in.

The last scenario is fairly easy to resolve but the other can be very involved, using proprietary methods.

One of the big risks that upon have is that if a probate is opened, your ability to control the deal will be reduced, perhaps radically if a court order confirming sale is required. Also, other family members may pop up, objecting to your discount purchase plan. Lastly, heir-chasers may thwart your plans to buy this property by finding other heirs and signing them up before you do (and knowing what and how to sign them up).

Best of luck to you on this one.

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