From Our “Ask a Question” mailbag: “I have a contract to purchase my neighbor’s land. Before I could complete the process, he died. Now the family refuses to open the estate and sign the deed over to me. Is there a method for enforcing a land contract against a deceased owner?
At your neighbor’s death, his right to execute contracts or deeds ended. This right is taken up by his executor. His estate’s executor will have all the same rights and obligations to carry out the contract’s terms.
Generally, the executor will promptly file the will and take over responsibility for the estate’s assets. The executor is with whom you would enforce your rights.
Enforcing a Land Contract Against a Deceased Owner is Possible
Unfortunately, executors don’t always do their jobs.
When an administrator fails to file the will and open the estate an interested party, such as yourself, has the right to Petition the Court to force the executor to file the Will. He cannot avoid you through inaction unless you decide not to enforce your right. In short, you must enforce your rights, or the family may never open the estate.
The wise choice would be to retain an attorney experienced in probate, real estate, and estate litigation. Your goal is to obtain good title to the land in the shortest possible time. This process is not simple, and there are several pitfalls to be avoided. You will need expertise in several fields to receive your title clear and free.
You Can Force the Executor to Open The Estate
The court can force the family to produce and file the Will, but it cannot force anyone to serve as executor. If the deceased’s family refuses to serve as administrator, the court has the right to appoint someone else. If you are the only person interested in having the Will filed, then you might be forced to take on this job. You should only take on this job after careful consideration. While you need not use your own funds to pay creditors, if you fail to gather an asset which reduces an inheritance, then the court could hold you accountable to beneficiaries or creditors for that asset’s loss. You will want advice from an experienced attorney. Luckily, you are allowed to use the estate’s funds to hire an attorney to advise you.
I would be happy to brainstorm options with you!
Contact our office for a free consultation if you have further questions about Probate or Estate Litigation.
Wills, Trusts, Probate, and Estate Litigation It’s All We Do!
Peter Klenk, Esq.