Probate law changes prompted by 7 investigation move forward in Lansing

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) - A year-long investigation by the 7 Investigators is now resulting in some movement in Lansing.

Our team has 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. 

On Tuesday, proposed changes to stop that practice are one step closer to becoming law.

Even though some local judges and lawyers are opposing these bills, HB 4822 and HB 4821 did pass the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon.

As we’ve been reporting, some Attorney General-appointed lawyers called Public Administrators teamed up with Macomb County real estate broker Ralph Roberts to open 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.

Since the 7 Investigators exposed this, Attorney General Bill Schuette has shut the practice down.

Oakland County Sheriff’s detectives are also conducting a criminal investigation.

The new bills would require better notice to heirs, and they would add criminal penalties for those who don’t follow the rules.  They would also give heirs 63 days, instead of 42 days, to open their own probate estates, before a Public Administrator can open the estate.

Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) held a hearing on the two bills, and both Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown and Treasurer Andy Meisner testified in support of the changes.

“Sanctions and deterrents to make absolutely clear – what they have done was clearly unethical, the purpose is to correct the letter of the law, and make sure people understand property rights are incredibly important and we’re going to protect.”

Citing a statement Roberts made to the 7 Investigators, Brown told the Senators today that the “mastermind of the scheme” wanted to take the probate plan national, and she said, “I urge your support for this legislation.”

The Michigan Probate Judges Association and the Probate lawyers committee are opposing the increased accountability for the Public Administrator lawyers.  Despite that opposition, the bills passed the Judiciary Committee unanimously, and they now head to the full Senate.

If you have a story for Heather Catallo, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com or call 248-827-4473.

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