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Why probate sales sometimes lead to complex title litigation

On Behalf of | Nov 27, 2023 | Real Estate Law |

Many property owners in Massachusetts include specific instructions for their real property in their estate plans. Oftentimes, people instruct the personal representative of their estate to sell their real property if none of their beneficiaries wish to purchase it or take possession of it. They may include the right of first refusal, meaning that certain beneficiaries should have the option of purchasing a home, for example, for its fair market value before the representative of the estate lists it for sale.

If no one wants the property itself but rather a share of its value, it may end up on the market. Buying real property from an estate can be an affordable option. Properties that sit vacant for a long time often see a drop in value that can lead to a more affordable price. Additionally, there won’t be reason to worry about the seller failing to vacate the premises after closing. However, buyers and sellers alike need to be aware that there are sometimes title disputes that arise after a purchase of real property from someone’s estate.

Why might a sale lead to title claims?

Title litigation occurs when one party asserts that they have a legal interest in a property despite another party currently having ownership or possession of that property. The sale of a home usually leads to an update of title records that will make the purchaser the official owner.

However, there is always a possibility of heirs or beneficiaries coming forward to challenge the transfer later. Particularly in scenarios where there is a named beneficiary that the personal representative of the estate could not locate or communicate with prior to listing the real property for sale, that beneficiary may want to take possession of the property when they discover what has occurred.

The current owners are potentially at risk of losing their interest in the property. Thankfully, it is possible to defend against such title claims. The most appropriate response to title claims stemming from an improperly handled estate in Massachusetts will depend on the nature of the relationship the beneficiary had with the testator and also the timeline of events.

Discussing the status of estate administration with the seller and investing in title insurance can help minimize the risk of such challenges when purchasing real property from someone’s estate.


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