Does He Really Own the Home and Land?
A few weeks before Christmas, I received a call from an individual who wanted to sell his mini ten-acre farm that had an unfinished log cabin on it. His wife had died about a year or so ago and he wanted to move back north where he was originally from.
He had spent his wife’s insurance money building the log cabin but ran out of money before he could finish it. In addition, he said he had no friends in the area so there was no need or desire for him to hang around. I got some preliminary information from him about the property and we set a time to meet.
I had some difficulty locating his name on any documents, viz., deed, tax card, etc. prior to our scheduled meeting. His wife’s name was on everything but not his. And her name did not match his last name. My first thought was that this may be a scam.
To make a long story shorter, both he and his wife had been previously married. She had three children by her previous marriage, and he had two by his. When he married her, she had already owned the 10-acres, thus it was in her name only. Title to the property was never changed.
She died without a will, i.e., intestate. He assumed everything would come to him automatically upon her death. (Not so!) I explained to him I was not a lawyer and that since the property was never probated, there were questions in my mind to his self-declared ownership of the home and land. I told him he needed a lawyer and to at least check with the local court. Needless to say, it upset him that he may not own the home and land. He had been living out of an RV as he built the log cabin.
He called me a few days later, downtrodden, as the court told him his wife’s children would have to sign waivers and two of them refused and one was in prison. (At least not hard to locate.) He kept asking me about all the money for improvements he had spent on the land and log cabin. I didn’t have an answer for him because everything was dependent on the waivers and the court’s decision.
(At the time of our last conversation, he said he couldn’t afford a lawyer as he lived off Social Security.)
I have written before about the importance of having a will, particularly for those from previous marriages. Don’t assume anything. Have your attorney review your will. It should be done yearly as these change over time. And if you don’t have one, viz., a will, do it now.
I am currently dealing with two other estates where there was no will and the heirs dislike each other. I am about to say “Adios” to these until there is some cooperation among the heirs. If there had been a will, these estates could have been closed long ago.