Death what to do?

31 Replies

Hey BP,

This is my first post I'm from Philadelphia P.A. There was a recent death of my neighbor. The cousin of the deceased has no interest in the property and wants to sell the property to me for $1. The problem is that the property is actually in the grandmothers name who is also deceased. I believe the property is owned free and clear. What do I do next? Should I get the property under contract? Does it need to go under probate? 

The cousin may or may not have the ability to sell.  You need to resolve the ownership.  If there is a will, a beneficiary deed or some other mechanism that transferred ownership then you need to find out who the owner is and work with them.  If there were no preparations done ahead of time the property will need to go through probate.   Its the property owners death that matters here.  I think you're saying the neighbor and grandma are two different people.  If so, the neighbor's death may or may not be relevant.

Thanx! Jon. Yes, the neighbor and the grandmother are two different people, The neighbor was the last person residing in the house.

Get the quitclaim deed from the cousin.  That will give you "standing" to start a probate, which could be a small estate probate (less complicated, less expensive), or a suite to quiet title.  If I were you, I would do the small estate probate first, if no other heirs can be located.

Welcome to BP, David. 

There's nothing like working a pre-probate deal to learn about real estate.

Before you get too excited about the one-dollar deal, suggest you research the property and determine:  Property value + Equity & Title and determine what you are trying to get

I suspect that you are trying to buy a property for a bargain. If it doesn't have any or much equity, you'd be wasting time and more than a dollar trying to buy a pile o' trouble.

Go online or physically visit your recorders office and check for liens of record, like mortgages, judgments, back prop taxes or code enforcement. 

IF, they look good, see whose name title is in. Pull up the death record for that person and see if the next of kin is the same "cousin". Cousins are not my first choice of assignees because there are too many loose ends and possible other relatives who show up when the money becomes known.

Thanx Dave and Rick! After I finish doing my due diligence (checking for liens). I'm going to get a quit claim deed so I can start probate. Is it wise for me to pay the costs associated with probate? Before actually knowing for certain whether I'll be able to purchase the property? The seller (cousin) wants me to handle all aspects of the purchase. Emotionally I believe she just doesn't want to deal with it.

Originally posted by @Dave Metsker:

Get the quitclaim deed from the cousin.  That will give you "standing" to start a probate, which could be a small estate probate (less complicated, less expensive), or a suite to quiet title.  If I were you, I would do the small estate probate first, if no other heirs can be located.

 How does a quit claim give anyone standing to open a probate.  Be specific.  :)

Yes, Dave. Tell us. Expiring minds want to know!

I say no (or Hell No) on the notion that a quit claim from an heir creates equitable interest.  An heir needs no deed.  They either have standing per stirps or they don't.  Quit claims don't address any such standing.  

As I've said before:  If you could gain title to real property by getting deeds from heirs.....I would have already done it!

This post has been removed.

Originally posted by @Dave Metsker :

@Rick H.  

It's true that a distant heir can open the probate if no one else does.  But no quit claim deed is necessary, and I doubt it would give anyone standing.  IMO a quit claim from an heir is virtually useless in this scenario.  And you can tell your attorney I said so.  :).  The heir would provide satisfactory evidence to the court that there is no else able and willing.  Assuming the court agrees, the "distant heir" would then be the administrator.  That heir does not drive the bus.  As admin, they are required to find and notify all other possible heirs and possible creditors.  And follow all the relevant probate codes for the state.

Now if you can get an assignment of interest in the estate from the heir (ALL the heirs)....that's when it get interesting.  

Thanks for posting, KMP. I decided debating with Metzker was pointless.

As you and I have discussed at length in the past, CA's probate code has a very straight forward definition of who can file a probate and order of priority (pecking order). The last category: anybody else!

As I've been a witness to literally thousands of cases and hundreds of litigation matters, including many contested matter, and even been in dozens personally as alligator wrestler, most cases don't petition to have the PR removed, only hold their feet to the fire. Few want the job as admin. 

I had lunch today with my primary litigation attorney (I have six) and we discussed the disadvantages of having fiduciary duties to others. And, don't forget duties to creditors!

A QCDEED in probate is like wetting your pants while wearing a dark suit. It may give you a warm feeling but the people who matter know what it really is. A durable, affirmative transfer document is what's required to stand up in court. At least in the real, not make-believe, legal world that I live in. 

I talked to my lawyer today and he said a quit claim deed does not give me standing to start probate. @K.Marie Poe would an assignment be the best way to protect my interest in the property if i decide to pay for probate?

The property value is over 100k+ and there is sufficient equity to make me want to get this deal under contract asap.

Thanks for all your quick replies guys.

I agree an assignment of rights for their share of the inheritance is where you start.  I do not know if the courts will like that as a basis for claiming you can do the probate, but for a dollar I would gamble on it myself.  A big problem is that when you get down to cousins there is likely to be many more heirs, only a thorough knowledge of the family tree will help you.  Find the legal owner and have "cousin" tell you everyone of their heirs, ie. spouses and kids, then their kids, etc until you get to cousin.  Is he the only one left?  Were there Wills that could change who is a legal heir? If not then find the others and try to buy their share too.  If nothing else executors usually get paid so you might make something even if there are 20 cousins who get a share.  Good luck.  I would pursue this both for the possible profit and the learning experience you get from it.

Originally posted by @David R. :

I talked to my lawyer today and he said a quit claim deed does not give me standing to start probate. @K.Marie Poe would an assignment be the best way to protect my interest in the property if i decide to pay for probate?

The property value is over 100k+ and there is sufficient equity to make me want to get this deal under contract asap.

Thanks for all your quick replies guys.

You need to ascertain and understand the entire heir picture.  Not to mention the entire debt/creditor picture including possible Medi-caid debt. An assignment from a cousin won't help if there are 12 other heirs.  The point of an assignment isn't to become the admin.  The goal is to become the sole beneficiary of the estate.  The sole bene has standing to open the probate and transfer the property

Get to work on the details of the the decedent's heirs at time of death.  

Thanks @K.Marie Poe I'm in the process now of ascertaining the decedent's heirs. I'll keep you guys updated on what;s going on.

Great luck and welcome BP

Thanks for the support @Greg Wake  much appreciated.

Originally posted by @Jerry W. :

I agree an assignment of rights for their share of the inheritance is where you start.  I do not know if the courts will like that as a basis for claiming you can do the probate, but for a dollar I would gamble on it myself.  A big problem is that when you get down to cousins there is likely to be many more heirs, only a thorough knowledge of the family tree will help you.  Find the legal owner and have "cousin" tell you everyone of their heirs, ie. spouses and kids, then their kids, etc until you get to cousin.  Is he the only one left?  Were there Wills that could change who is a legal heir? If not then find the others and try to buy their share too.  If nothing else executors usually get paid so you might make something even if there are 20 cousins who get a share.  Good luck.  I would pursue this both for the possible profit and the learning experience you get from it.

Jerry:  IMO an assignment of interest to real property in an estate is not a gamble in the court where I am.  If you have such an assignment, you have the same rights as the assignor.  The courts do not argue or frown upon an assignment from an heir that is properly executed.

Where the gamble comes in is when working with heirs without the entire heir and debt picture.  What is an "heir" assigning?  1/12 interest in a piece of real property with 11 other cousins? Or how about 1/24th interest in real property with the 11 other cousins, with 1/2 interest half being owned by the spouse that everyone thought the decedent had divorced 20 years ago.......but hadn't.  The gamble is in the creditor and heir arena, not the courts.  At least in my experience.

I know about that deal!

Originally posted by @Rick H. :

I know about that deal!

 Totally hypothetical.  It's never as clean as 1/2 MIA spouse and 12 equal interests.  If only.

Too many pieces?

That's when you need to take the Gordian Knot approach to solving the problem. 


IF, they look good, see whose name title is in. Pull up the death record for that person and see if the next of kin is the same "cousin". Cousins are not my first choice of assignees because there are too many loose ends and possible other relatives who show up when the money becomes known.

 @Rick H. - When you say death record, does that mean death certificate? I went to the clerks office and ordered the death record and they gave me a copy of the death certificate but I do not see any info about next of kin. Did I do that right? How do I find next of kin?

Originally posted by @Nick Graff:

IF, they look good, see whose name title is in. Pull up the death record for that person and see if the next of kin is the same "cousin". Cousins are not my first choice of assignees because there are too many loose ends and possible other relatives who show up when the money becomes known.

 @Rick Harmon - When you say death record, does that mean death certificate? I went to the clerks office and ordered the death record and they gave me a copy of the death certificate but I do not see any info about next of kin. Did I do that right? How do I find next of kin?

A full death cert has "informant" info  (name, address, relationship).  Could be the spouse, a relative or a neighbor.  There is no specific next of kin info on a death cert.  You may not be privy to a full death cert in your state if there are regs that allow only heirs and attorneys to access them.  In that case all you can get is what they give you.  Some states have abbreviated death and birth certs available to the public that have the dates and location, but not much else.

Finding next of kin is pretty vague and somewhat useless.  There is an order in which heirs inherit.  You don't need to find cousins if there is a living spouse or child.  You don't need to find any heirs if there is a will.  There are also creditors to consider. You need the full heir picture and title picture. Have you talked to the neighbors?  Read the obit? Searched the recorded docs and court records? Ran a title report? 

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