(WXYZ) – The Michigan Attorney General is suspending a controversial probate practice that 7 Investigator Heather Catallo recently exposed.
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She’s been showing you how several local families are losing large parts of their inheritance to certain public officials who have teamed up with real estate brokers.
Now Attorney General Bill Schuette wants this practice to stop while his office takes a very close look at what’s been happening with these cases.
“It’s sad to me that people are out there doing that,” Joanne Zaremba told Catallo last month.
Joanne is one of several rightful heirs who say they were blindsided when someone else opened a probate estate in a deceased relatives name. That meant Joanne could have lost her late mother’s home to a complete stranger. And she’s not alone.
“We were summoned to court, someone opened a probate estate in his name,” said Kristin Rekowski about her late father.
Real Estate Broker Ralph Roberts has teamed up with some Attorney General-appointed lawyers called Public Administrators. The Public Administrators and Roberts’ company, Probate Asset Recovery, bill the estates for thousands of dollars, plus Roberts gets real estate commissions when they sell the homes.
“I find properties. I believe there’s a benefit, so I then tell a public administrator, here’s the benefit there,” said Roberts in November 2016.
“So you’re getting the real estate fees, and you’re getting the Probate Asset Recovery fees,” asked Catallo.
“If we’re successful, yes,” said Roberts. Roberts admitted he often take 1/3 of the total estate assets.
In many of the cases, the houses at stake are in foreclosure or the owners were behind on their taxes. Now that we’ve exposed this practice, the Attorney General is suspending all Public Administrators from opening any new estates with homes that are in foreclosure or those that owe taxes.
During the suspension, Attorney General Schuette’s will be reviewing whether they need to come up with additional rules for how to handle these estates.
Schuette also indefinitely suspended Public Administrator Cecil St. Pierre from Warren as part of this probe into the probate practice.