An estate battle, a manipulator, and me (legal advice needed)
November 20, 2018 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Despite past history of aggression, domestic violence, and manipulation, a borderline narcissist sibling (let's call him Zee) managed to convince me to work with him to try to sell the estate of a deceased parent several years ago. After finally telling him I don't want to be involved anymore, Zee tells me that to get me off the negotiations, he'll need my state ID. Oh, and, he and I might still be sued if the sale of the house doesn't go through. I'm in my twenties, several states away, with a full-time job, student loan debt, and a medical illness. I have no idea what to do and I'm scared. If you have any advice, I need it. Bad.

Here are the details, of which there are many:

Zee is about twice my age now, and only this year did I learn the tactics of narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths. He subjected me to many of them after the death of our mother, when I was young, which is when he moved into the house he is trying to sell (I should add that he moved in after spending weeks gambling without even a shower). He is prone to anger and violence, which caused me to run away from home.

About 5 years ago, he offered an apology for his actions, unprompted, that made me think he had changed. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, I hadn't the knowledge or vocabulary to be more distrusting, and anyway, I felt safe, living several states away.

Shortly before this, our grandmother died. Our grandmother co-owned the house I grew up in with our mother. Zee, who has always looked for ways to make a quick buck, decided we should sell it (there is no will). Since I was graduating with student loan debt and was naive, I jumped on board.

However, Zee and I aren't the only heirs. There are also three others--children of my mother's sister, who is also long since deceased.

Two of them were smart. They refused to really deal with Zee and demanded speaking to lawyers and such. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what they did, since they didn't trust me either and were rather uncommunicative, but it's part of what Zee blames as "holding up the process" of getting the house sold. Then, the third heir died, which caused even more problems. I have not been in contact with any of the other heirs for several years now.

At some point, I, and I believe, with a fair amount of certainty, all of the rest of the surviving heirs, signed a notarized document known as a "Contract of Sale," which I believe is a document saying that we agree to sell the house to a particular buyer (who is named on the document). At least, this is what Zee tells me it is. A few months ago, he alluded to a drama that has made him either consider changing or actually change sellers, but again, he has been vague. Oh, I also have a copy of a document known as a "Title Report" (not sure what this is).

Meanwhile, the house is in foreclosure, or borderline foreclosure. Our grandmother did not have enough to pay on the house, or Zee was not contributing, or both--really I'm not sure, since many details have not been shared with me (on purpose, I am now sure). Over the years Zee repeated that the payoff on the house is decreasing because the debt on it is increasing, and that every month or so he has to go to court to prove he is in the process of paying this off by preparing the sale of the house. I don't know how true this is or could be.

A year ago, I told Zee I no longer wanted to be a part of this house deal, and this is when he tells me that if I pull out of the deal, we could all get sued because the buyer apparently really wants their money and is getting frustrated with all the holdups(?). This is how Zee made it sound.

Then, several months ago, I was diagnosed with a medical illness that stress is surely not helping. In my off hours, I have done everything I could to try to get better, including spending the little money I do have on functional medicine, and trying to make peace with my past. One of those things was understanding abuse.

A week ago, I finally built up the courage to go no-contact with Zee completely, requiring him to officially remove me from the estate sale shenanigans. Cue a temper tantrum, by text, with him calling me selfish and negative, and ends by him essentially saying that my death wouldn't effect him after dealing with the loss of our mother and grandmother (yes).

However, today, I get a message in a begrudging sort of tone, where Zee asks me for my ID. With this, he will get the paperwork drawn up to "absolve me of any legal repercussions regarding the house" but I should know that there's a strong possibility we could lose the house and be held accountable, which I assume means be sued for the money owed. And here is where the problem lies.

What do I do? I cannot talk to him, I can't trust much of anything he says, and what he does tell me he is impossibly vague about. Certainly I'm not giving this man a copy of my ID. Creditors have begun calling me as it is, and I have ignored them.

Work and my illness have exhausted me, and I just want to be away from Zee and this house forever. I have little extra money (organic foods, supplements, savings (which I just started because there is none), rent, and loans eat everything). But I also really don't want to be involved in this anymore.

Additionally, if I am sued and can't pay, what happens? Bankruptcy? I have no assets, really, so would that be so bad? I am trying to gather advice so as not to catastrophize.

All I know was that there was definitely a sale proposed, as I have some documents to prove it, but now that I know the people originally involved may not be involved anymore, and Zee is saying things like "the creditors are definitely coming" and "I owe every agency anyway," I have no idea how bad this is about to get for me.

I work for a university in Massachusetts. Zee and the house are in New York City. If you have any advice for me, I'll have it.

Note:Forgot to add, I had my legal name changed for personal reasons a few years back, and the creditors have my cell number but are using my old name, and all the house sale paperwork is in my old name. I have no idea what might happen if/when they find out I changed my name, or if that's important.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you afford to spend a few hundred dollars to talk to a real estate lawyer? I don’t think anyone here is going to be able to give you much practical advice without a lot more details about what you signed and stuff like that. Your brother doesn’t have your best interests at heart and is almost certainly lying to you. A lawyer who works for you could help you figure out the truth if the situation.

If you can’t afford that, is your brother selling the house with a realtor? Maybe you could communicate with the realtor rather than your brother.

I am not a lawyer, but I strongly suspect the worst *likely* scenario for you is that you don’t get any of the proceeds of the sale of the house. If you don’t want any of the money from the house you might be able to sign a quit claim on the house and just wash your hands of it.
posted by mskyle at 7:12 PM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Do not give your ID to the Zee man.

Since you did not sign the mortgage, you have no obligation to pay it. The estate likely does and it seems to me that if you were an executor of the estate and did not use the proceeds of the sale of the house to pay the outstanding mortgage, you could have some liability. It does not sound like you are an Executor. Who is? That is the person with whom you should speak unless that is Zee. Then talk to a lawyer or do as you are doing, distance yourself from this mess and do not sigh ANYTHING. You could find out who the actual owner of the house is now that the original owners have died.

Your name change is not really relevant except if you changed it to avoid collections or to defraud which you did not.

I am not a lawyer. If I were you, I would try to find a cheap one to deal with this for you or in the absence of that, avoid the whole thing like the plague. I agree with mskyle that the likely worst case is you get no proceeds. It appears as if that is going to be the case anyway if the house is in foreclosure.

Good luck. Try to enjoy Thanksgiving. Do not stress on this this week.
posted by AugustWest at 7:37 PM on November 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

I think the #1 thing you need to do immediately is pull your credit report from all three bureaus. You need to know what your name is actually attached to. Find every copy you have of every document that ever got sent to you. You don't just miraculously owe money to creditors because you're related to a lady who died while owning a house. If you do owe more than just what would be secured by the home, either you signed for something--or Zee is doing something fraudulent. Try to nail down as much as you can what the current state is of all of this. Once you actually have the picture in front of you, I suspect you'll know better if what you need is a lawyer or what, and specifically what you need a lawyer for.

Bankruptcy is absolutely not the end of the world, but I'm seriously wondering if there's some identity theft going on here and if he's trying to do more of it. If you have accounts on your credit report related to this, contact all of them and ask for full documentation. But he's been living in this house, it sounds like, for five years, with nobody else seeing it? It wouldn't surprise me if it's basically currently un-sellable because he isn't maintaining it, or if he just plain doesn't want to sell it because he can't get other housing. And you should really read that title report and see what it actually says about the title!

But get everything together in one place and read it all yourself first, that will give you a much more solid base of information to work from.
posted by Sequence at 7:42 PM on November 20, 2018 [16 favorites]

Nothing you have been told is true. NOTHING.

Get a lawyer. Secure your credit information, make sure you have fraud protection.

Stop talking to Zee.

Get a lawyer to pull all of the relevant documents and advise you once the situation has been researched. My guess is Zee has engaged in a TON of financial fraud you want no part of. Stay clear, stay safe.
posted by jbenben at 7:48 PM on November 20, 2018 [12 favorites]

I am not a lawyer.
If a house is foreclosed, heirs do not owe money. People who signed a loan document might owe money, not heirs.
No will. But there is still probate, and probate affairs must involve all concerned parties.
For probate there must be an executor. If it's Zee, Zee is liable for any stupid crap.
Get a separate gmail account and a google voice number - free. Supply this to Zee and maybe to your cousins. Google voice tales voicemail for you. This allows you to pick & choose your communications with Zee.
Your instinct to not supply your ID is correct.
If you can possibly afford a lawyer, you should get one.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 PM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I am neither a lawyer nor a real estate agent. I'm a document specialist who works in a land sales department. I see a lot of title reports.

Very likely (because I always hedge when I'm talking about legal things wherein I have some info but no formal training), the title report is a list of the legal ownership of that piece of property - who owns "title," and who used to own it, and what bits and pieces are reserved for other purposes (like an easement, if the utility company has the right to enter and work on a power line buried in the back yard).

A "preliminary title report" is produced on request (and the relinquishment of a certain amount of money), and it says "we, the title company, are willing to guarantee that, to the best of our knowledge, X is the owner of the property and it has Y related conditions, exceptions, easements, and other complications." They get outdated quickly (a few months), but an old one isn't bad; it's just no longer guaranteed to hold up in court. Odds are, nothing has changed since the last one, but the title company isn't promising that--if the city has passed a new zoning ordinance last month, the property rights may have changed. A non-preliminary, final title report is ordered at the time of sale, to verify all the ownership etc. details for the new buyer.

Title reports and the related documents are damn near incomprehensible to anyone who isn't a real estate specialist. All the documents are heavy with real estate jargon; absolutely do not trust that you have figured out what any of it means without consulting someone with the appropriate expertise.

nthing, "don't give your ID to Zee." And go find a lawyer, even if all you can afford is a free consultation. If you have friends who work in real estate, they can help you figure out what the title report says, although it's likely to be very boring and not actually helpful for getting anything done.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:06 PM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am not a lawyer, but just on general principles I would be completely astonished to learn that there is some conceivable legal instrument that Zee might possibly have any legal right to process on your behalf that would require him to have a copy of your ID in order to be able to do that.

this is when he tells me that if I pull out of the deal, we could all get sued because the buyer apparently really wants their money and is getting frustrated with all the holdups(?).

This makes no sense. There is no money for the buyer to want; there is only the house, and given that Zee is living in it that sounds to me like Zee's problem, not yours.

(legal advice needed)

Call Saul.
posted by flabdablet at 4:01 AM on November 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also, this was the kind of weird story I would hear from people deep in drug addiction to keep getting money. You should put lots of buffers (lawyer, no speaking only emails, no visiting, etc) between you and Zee.

If I had to guess (and this could be wrong or only part of their reasons) your other siblings may not be talking to you because you’ve been super naive where Zee is concerned -or- Zee has been telling them lies about you for years, possibly some combination of these things.

Once you have competent legal counsel + the full picture based on your lawyer’s research (basically you are comporting yourself like a reasonable adult) your lawyer can contact your siblings or their legal representatives, and via this you might establish some sort of positive relationships with them down the road.

** Also PLEASE Please don’t forget to pull your credit report, just to make sure Zee is not already impersonating you to obtain loans and credit cards. **
posted by jbenben at 4:27 AM on November 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

So you have a house that still has a mortgage. Zee is living in it. He is currently trying to sell it to a person. But creditors are calling you to collect money...for what? The mortgage? There should be no reason your name is on the mortgage. It was never your house and you did not sign your name to any loan documents. There should be absolutely no one asking for money from you. The estate is responsible for completing any debts that are still outstanding, and the executor is responsible for paying those debts with the estate’s money.

Figure out exactly what debt the creditors are calling you to collect. Hire a lawyer. Pull your credit report. At some point Zee has put your name on legal documentation that makes you responsible for debt, without your knowledge or at the very least, your understanding.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:29 AM on November 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Several good ideas here-no ID to Z, and minimizing contact. I would check in with more functional people, like the cousins who hired a lawyer, to get details. It may be that the lawyer was linked to the foreclosure. It may be that someone official needs documentation of your name change, like when people take a married name, but that’s not anID. Try to find a way to bypass Z. Can you look at records online-the foreclosure and property ownership details are public. This will tell you if the sale occurred. Selling a house in foreclosure is not simple. Your name is involved likely because you are an interested party in the estate of the owner. Collection agencies can be wildly speculative in locating assets for payment. Pull your reports and clarify/clean up anything that’s amiss. There is plenty of information online from people cleaning up credit reports that you should not need to pay anything, just correspond as needed.

Edit: it can take a month or two for the sale to be recorded. I’m not a lawyer.
posted by childofTethys at 4:55 AM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

This all sounds so exhausting. I'm sorry you have had to endure it. The good news is that the solution is (initially, at least) very simple.

Contact the Probate Court in New York to find out who the executor of your grandmother's estate is. Unless it is you, go on to the rest of the advice here. If it is you, you almost certainly need to contact a lawyer. Sorry.

Stop receiving communications from Zee. Block his numbers/emails/whatever. There is no reason he needs to contact you. That's what no-contact means - no contact from you and no contact to you. If he does need to contact you he can send a certified letter.

Pull your credit reports to make sure there aren't any accounts you don't recognize.

Talk to the creditors calling you and request documentation of the debts they are collecting. If they are actually your debts, arrange some sort of payment plan to get them to stop calling. If they are related to the estate, give them contact info for the executor.

That's it! Unless you are the executor of the estate, the whole house business does not involve you, unless there are some proceeds from the sale that you are entitled to (doesn't sound like there will be, but you never know). Have a great Thanksgiving.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:27 AM on November 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

None of what Zee has been telling you makes any kind of sense. My guess is that they have been using this house as their own personal line of credit, piled on multiple mortgages, and are now trying to foist that debt onto you. Basically this is identity theft. Do not trust Zee. Zee is lying. Talk to the other heirs, and talk to a lawyer.
posted by ook at 6:48 AM on November 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

In fact, fake creditors calling you to get your info is A Thing addicts do to steal money. I just realized this sounded familiar because it was attempted on a friend of mine about 10 years ago.

Seriously, get a lawyer and lock down your identity and legal exposure.
posted by jbenben at 7:37 AM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cheap or free legal help is available. Try the local law schools and see if they have clinics that might be able to help you. Likewise the law schools in NYC. Nthing the previous posters, it sounds like you have no real responsibility here.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:18 AM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you work for a university, chances are good you may have access to an Employee Assistance Program - this usually covers some help getting started with legal issues (referral to lawyer with the necessary background, and maybe either a free or reduced fee consult.) That might be a useful place to start to help yourself figure out further steps.

The Human Resources department site probably has the info - places I've worked, it's been part of the yearly benefits document and also linked prominently on the employee-side webpages or intranet.
posted by jenettsilver at 2:08 PM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Here is a link to help you find legal aid in Massachusetts. OP, I am so sorry you are facing this situation. In addition to looking for legal help, maintaining no-contact with Zee, keeping your ID to yourself, and pulling credit reports, I would encourage you to ask friends and/or colleagues for emotional and practical help. You are ill. You have been bullied/abused/treated poorly. You are working full-time and stressed by debt in addition to being ill. Your life will be much better if you don't feel obligated to deal with all of this alone. So if you have friends or colleagues you can ask to help you with any part of this (the illness, the legal stuff, being stressed), please ask for help. Not everyone will be available to help you, but the ones who are available will be happy to help. I cannot help you directly but if you need to vent feel free to message me directly. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:33 PM on November 21, 2018

Yes! Check if your employer offers a legal benefit. Mine does and it's a great deal. I paid less than 100, I forget how much but very cheap.
posted by latkes at 5:53 PM on November 21, 2018

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