Wait, that house is mine! Mistake or probate fraud?

I recently had a potential new client who discovered his father had properties in Sacramento county… or so he thought.  Though dad had died some years ago this seemed to be pennies from heaven for this nice young man.  The client was very nice and due to his father’s unique name these certainly seemed to be his properties.

Let me be clear that as an attorney I have an obligation to the court to not commit fraud on the court. I thus would never knowingly commit fraud in my filings.  However, the fact is, sometimes I don’t know… and sometimes, as the case is here, my client doesn’t know. I should add we have NOT filed anything here and I do not intend to file anything here.

I have modified the facts slightly to protect the parties.

My client thought this person, who owned multiple properties in Northern California, was his dad because the name was pretty unique.  However, after I did a little investigation it became clear to me the person was not his father. There are several small issues that gave me pause but after 25 years of doing this type of work I have seen so many far-fetched stories that were reality that I just figured it might be here too. I decided to dig a little before we filed in probate court as I wanted our filing to be accurate and I didn’t want to waste my client’s money if the case wasn’t what my client hoped it was.

As I told this client, after I determined the properties were not his father’s, you need to have some evidence that the property belongs to your loved one.  It would be sadly easy to commit probate fraud but in this case it was just a mistake I believe. I think my client thought he had fallen into a windfall.

Do your due diligence. If you are not 100% sure the property belongs to your loved one then do some homework or talk to an attorney, like me, to help you do some homework.  I want to help you not be in a position that you are committing fraud.  We can work together and sort it out. I have resources including title company databases where we can look through a properties history. That can be very helpful as we might see a familiar name.

On the other hand I am sure there are some scandalous people who actually commit probate fraud.  Don’t be that person!  Don’t go to jail!  Life is not perfect during these Covid days but better outside of jail than in it!

-John Palley

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