March 12, 2019
What Happens When Missing Heirs Claim Ownership of Your Property?
When you bought your dream home, you never expected it to turn into your worst nightmare. However, it appears you have major problems. The man who previously owned your house passed away, and you purchased your home from his estate. Now, you have some missing heirs claiming ownership of your property. How is that even possible?
You think back. You remember hearing that the prior owner died without a will. However, he only left behind one son, and he produced paperwork from the Register of Wills in Lackawanna County. The documents named the son as the estate’s administrator or personal representative.
The news of missing heirs making a claim to your property comes from an attorney. Apparently, the lawyer represents two estranged daughters from the decedent’s first marriage. They feel they are entitled to the proceeds of their father’s estate. And, they’re not looking to share with their half-brother.
The situation turns out to be extremely complicated. It appears the decedent executed a will years before the son was even born. The will names the daughters as joint beneficiaries.
All things considered, this sounds like a family squabble that should not involve you. Unfortunately, it does. Hopefully, you purchased title insurance to protect yourself from situations like this one.
Title Insurance and Missing Heirs
Our scenario might seem a bit contrived. However, missing heir claims happen more frequently than you would imagine. In some cases, it’s a matter of fraud. In others, conflicting wills present issues.
Title insurance serves to protect you in case undisclosed heirs present after you’ve closed on your property. In case you’re not certain of what else title insurance covers, here are some other examples:
- Fraudulent or forged documents
- Tax liens
- Outstanding judgments and mortgages
- Pending legal action involving your property
- Improperly recorded documents
- Inadequate legal descriptions within the deed
- Issues regarding the chain of title
As you might guess, the title insurance company does its own due diligence prior to issuing a policy. The requirements contrast for different types of transactions. So, what happens when an estate sells the property?
For starters, the title insurance company contacts the Register of Wills to obtain copies of documentation naming either the executor or administrator of the estate. Most often, the seller will also need to complete an Estate Questionnaire.
The more significant problems often occur when the decedent does not leave behind a will. In our exemplary scenario, it’s possible that the son did not realize his father had children from another marriage. He assumed he was the sole beneficiary.
When you buy property from an estate, you need to check with the title insurance company and ensure you are protected from claims by missing heirs.
If you are faced with a claim, the title insurance company will afford you payment for your legal bills. As part of your contract with the title company, they provide financial compensation to the missing heirs if the case proves legitimate.
Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano represent individuals with issues regarding all types of real property claims. Have missing heirs asserted a claim against your property? Whether you have title insurance or not, you need experienced legal advice. Give us a call to see how we can assist you.