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Beware of Scam After the Death of A Loved One

03.12.15 written by

During the course of my twenty years of practicing law, I have spent a significant amount of time with clients who are administrating their loved one’s estates.  I have seen a number of scams orchestrated by family members and third parties in order to trick unsuspecting surviving spouses or family members into making unnecessary distributions of estate assets.  However, a new scam has surfaced.  Recently a client informed me of a new scam involving a decedent’s estate and I wanted to make this new scam public.

If an individual owned real estate (either in his or her own name or in the name of his or her revocable trust), upon their death, some estate administration matters must be handled by the executor.  This includes the executor coordinating the cleaning of the residence, disposing of the tangible personal property in the residence, and selling the residence, and dividing the proceeds, all in accordance with the terms of the will.

One type of scam is being perpetrated in the following manner.  After the death of an individual, online out-of-country scammers are researching the obituaries and county records where the decedent resided to determine whether or not that decedent owned real estate.  If that decedent does own real estate either in his or her own name or in the name of his or her revocable trust, then the scammers are placing ads on various internet sites advertising that the real estate is available to be rented.  The ad describes the real estate using available online information and states the rental terms.  These terms include the amount of the down payment and monthly rental amount.  The amounts of the deposit and monthly rent are usually below fair market value which makes this attractive to a potential tenant.  In the online ad, the scammer requests that if the potential tenant is interested in renting this real estate, then he or she should send the down payment and first month’s rent to a particular address in the United States established by the scammer.  The scammer says he will send the appropriate paperwork and keys to the tenant after receiving the executed paperwork.  Needless to say, if the deposit and monthly rent is sent, it will be lost forever.   

One recent client informed me that she received a telephone call from a friend who had seen her mother’s property listed on a popular internet site for buying, selling, and renting assets.  The real estate was listed as a potential rental with instructions on how it could be rented.  The friend called the executor and informed her of this ad.  After discovering this listing, the executor of the estate responded to the ad and demanded that the scammer delete the ad or the authorities would be contacted to investigate.  Within a few hours, the scammer had deleted the ad for renting her mother’s home, and the scammer had vanished into thin air.

Therefore, if you recently had a loved one who passed away or if you are interested in renting a house, you need to be aware of this scam involving real estate in an estate.  You should run a Google search on your loved one’s real estate to see if any ads are found which you did not place.  You should also contact a local real estate agent for assistance as well.  In addition to the assistance real estate agents can provide when selling or renting the real estate, these professionals have outstanding resources available to help you become aware of these types of situations

As a renter, if the deposit or rent appears to be lower than the payment terms for other similarly situated real estate, you need to conduct some due diligence before you send these funds by mail.  Renters need to investigate the premises thoroughly and contact the executor of an estate directly after reviewing county real estate records.  Renters should also contact a local real estate agent to receive more information on the residence as well.  Otherwise, you could end up losing thousands of dollars on a residence that you thought you had actually rented.

If you have any questions regarding these matters, please contact your estate planning attorney.

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.

James F. Contini II, Esq.
Certified Specialist in Estate Planning,
Trust & Probate Law by the OSBA
Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty Co., LPA
158 North Broadway
New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663
Phone:  330-364-3472
Fax:  330-602-3187