Bereavement should be a time of feeling loved and supported by one’s family, friends, and community – but unfortunately, those grieving are often targeted by a host of bad actors. These schemes range from scammers pretending to be debt collection agencies to individuals posing as tax agents. Here, we’ll cover a scenario we see many clients facing: real estate agents putting the pressure on for below market estate sales.

Throughout our blog we’ll be covering various schemes targeting the bereaved, to help you and your family protect yourselves and your loved one’s legacy. We hope these insights will be a valuable resource to you.

Stay Alert: Real Estate Scams

It’s a phone call we receive quite often at our firm: an individual’s loved one passes away, and suddenly a flood of letters and calls begin to arrive from local real estate agents. These agents express interest in buying the family home for below market value – sometimes far, far below market value – and try to convince the individual that this will help them avoid the stress of probate.

Where do all these letters come from? Some agents find information from probate records, which are public, while others may use data brokers or even search through obituaries. While not every solicitation is a scam, there are unfortunately unethical agents along with outright imposters who will try to deceive vulnerable families. For many clients, these letters bring much distress. Here are some key things to keep in mind.

Use Caution in Making Financial Decisions While Grieving

After the death of a loved one there’s a lot to manage, from funeral arrangements to notifying relatives and friends. This time of heightened emotion can lead to unhealthy financial behaviors in the lives of those grieving. For some, compulsive buying becomes a challenge during bereavement. Some may make impulsive job changes, while others feel overwhelmed and try to avoid financial decisions at all costs.

This is what real estate agents in these types of situations are counting on. They may be offering only $30,000 on a $200,000 home, for example, but they’ll try to convince an estate’s personal representative that this is an easy way out of a long and expensive probate process. Know that while probate can take a long time, it doesn’t always take a long time. On the other hand, it’s unlikely the home would be sold any sooner than three months from the start of the probate process – making an agent’s promise of fast cash quite misleading.

Additionally, attorney fees may not be as extensive as you think. And working with a professional real estate agent can not only provide a more secure sale experience, but you’re more likely to receive a fair market offer on your family home – which may greatly exceed any offers from intrusive agents. Before making any big financial decisions regarding your loved one’s assets, it’s always best to first consult a professional in estate law. 

The Estate May Still Require Probate

It’s also important to remember that being named the personal representative of the estate doesn’t mean you have the legal right to allocate the estate as you wish. If the will expresses that the proceeds from a real estate sale go to charity or are to be split between beneficiaries, for example, it is your responsibility to ensure this occurs.

If the decedent died intestate – or without a will – the role of personal representative must be appointed by the court. Florida’s intestate succession laws may determine that beneficiaries such as adult children will inherit a percentage of the estate. And probate of an estate must be managed with the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind. Selling a home for a fraction of its value without consulting heirs may result in litigation.

If you find yourself facing unsolicited calls and letters regarding the family home, don’t be alarmed. Our team can assess your situation and help you make informed decisions.