LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) - The 7 Investigators have been exposing a disturbing pattern of some public officials and real estate brokers taking over probate estates after someone dies, often leaving the rightful heirs with very little.
Tuesday in Lansing, lawmakers got an earful from the people who’ve lost big portions of their inheritance to state-appointed attorneys and real estate brokers. They also heard from leaders in Oakland County who are demanding change.
“I saw the news reports and realized this was happening to other people and not just my family. I wanted to do something about it,” said Judy D’Angelo in front of the State House Judiciary Committee. D’Angelo told the committee that she lost thousands of dollars when her late mother’s Waterford home was sold through a controversial probate practice first exposed by the 7 Investigators.
“Of the $38,000 in proceeds from the first sale, my brother and I evenly split $2,640, while the Public Administrator/Personal Representative attorney cleared $5,000. And she claimed that was a big discount from her $25,000 fee. And the real estate broker received much more,” said D’Angelo.
Here’s what’s been happening: some Attorney General-appointed lawyers called Public Administrators teamed up with real estate broker Ralph Roberts to open up probate estates after a loved one dies. Then Roberts and his company, Probate Asset Recovery, used that power from the court to sell the homes and take thousands of dollars from the probate estate.
“All the while the rightful heirs are being completely shut out, or given a pittance of what they are entitled to. These two bills take a critical step to shut this down in MI.
Representatives Jim Runestad (R-Highland Twp.) and Jim Ellison (D-Royal Oak) have introduced changes to the Public Administrator law that would require better notice to heirs. The bills would add criminal penalties.
“They’ve seen what’s happened to these families. I can’t be more proud of how many people have been working on a bipartisan level to make sure that this is done properly,” Rep. Runestad told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
One bill (HB 4822) would keep real estate and asset recovery fees to no more than 10% of the net proceeds from the estate. The bill would also require the Public Administrator to give notice to the County Treasurer if the decedent’s property is facing tax foreclosure. Another proposed bill (HB 4821) aims to extend the number of days from 42 to 93 days, giving heirs more time to open their own probate estates.
The bills have the support of the Attorney General, and the Oakland County Treasurer and Clerk.
“The people that we’re trying to temper their actions are vultures. They are preying on the most vulnerable,” said Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown.
Oakland County officials say Kemp Klein attorney Barbara Andruccioli was the Public Administrator who opened the probate estate in the name of Judy D’Angelo’s mother.
Attorney General Bill Schuette terminated Andruccioli as a Public Administrator in July in the wake of the 7 Action News investigations. Two of the other Public Administrators involved in this probate practice, Cecil St. Pierre and Joseph Xuereb, have also resigned.
“It’s a big deal for the legislature to take a certain bill up. There are thousands of bills that are introduced every year, and the fact that the legislature saw fit to give this one an audience… I think is an indication of how serious the problem is,” said Meisner.
The Representatives sponsoring these proposed changes hope to get these bills to the Senate with a few weeks and onto the Governor’s desk as soon as possible.
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