When a property owner dies, often taxes go unpaid, and the property gets transferred at a tax sale. This typically happens when a property owner dies without close family or when the decedent’s family thinks it’s too much hassle taking over the property (maybe the property is in bad shape or there is little equity).
As every good tax deed purchaser knows, 366 days after the tax sale, notices to terminate the right to redeem can be sent out. But who do you send these to when the main person entitled to redeem, the homeowner, is dead.
O.C.G.A § 48-4-45 answers this question and instructs that “heirs of any deceased owner of any land entitled to notice pursuant to this Code section shall be served by the sheriff or notified as provided in this article.” Ok. So if the former owner is deceased, you are required to serve his or her heirs. Seems simple enough, but how do you determine who the heirs are?
In our office, we start by getting the death certificate of the deceased individual. This tells us where the decencent was living and (normally) provides information regarding at least one family member. We then contact family members to determine the heirs. As you can imagine, family members aren’t thrilled to talk to an attorney’s office who’s trying to “take property away from” a loved one recently passed. However, after explaining the situation, we usually get the family members to help us.
We also check the probate courts to see if the dead person has an estate and had a will. If so, we get the probate paperwork. If the person died intestate (without a will), then we follow Georgia statutory intestate rules to determine the heirs, and try to get “affidavits of descent” from family members. These affidavits help establish who the decedent was married to, the identity of the children, and so forth.
This can be a lot of work. In one case, we had an elderly decedent who died without a will, wasn’t married, and had had nine children. Several of those children had passed, meaning several of the grandchildren were heirs. We ended up having to locate and serve approximately 19 heirs spread all over the country.
If you need to send out notices of foreclosure of right to redeem in Georgia, and are facing a similar situation, we’ll be happy to discuss your situation and answer any questions. Please call us at 404-382-9994.