By Jeffery McKenna

You or someone you know may own unmarketable assets as a result of the death of a previous owner. The asset may be real estate, stock in a corporation or some other asset. The title is unmarketable because the property is in the name of the deceased individual.

Many times when someone dies owning property in his or her name, the surviving family members do not take the necessary steps to clear title to the property. Although this is common, it can create future problems.

If a parent, grandparent or some other ancestor died with real estate, stock or other assets in just his or her name and no probate proceeding was commenced, the assets are likely still in that person’s name and presently unmarketable. The assets cannot be sold or transferred because title is in the name of the deceased.

If someone dies with a will, the will states who is to serve as personal representative of the deceased. If there is no will, the intestate statute of the state where the property is located specifies the priority for who is to serve as personal representative.

Once someone is appointed personal representative, the person appointed has authority to sell or transfer assets of the deceased. However, in Utah, if the probate proceeding is not commenced within three years after someone’s death, a personal representative cannot be appointed. In these situations, a legal action to determine the heirs of the deceased must be commenced.

Although a determination of heirs is usually a more involved process then a probate proceeding, it is an effective way to clear title to otherwise unmarketable assets.

Many families know of assets within their family that were owned by a family member that died more than three years ago. Often, the family does not know what to do about the assets. In some situations, the assets may have significantly increased in value. Family members are often relieved to know there is a process to clear title.

Determining the heirs of a deceased individual usually involves several steps. Although the process can be involved, it rarely gets easier with the passage of time. Fortunately, with a little effort and sometimes a brief genealogical review to determine the heirs of a deceased property owner, property that is presently unmarketable can once again be sold or transferred.

Jeffery J. McKenna is a local attorney serving clients in Nevada, Arizona and Utah. He is a shareholder at the law firm of Barney McKenna & Olmstead, PC, with offices in Mesquite and St. George. If you have questions you would like addressed in these articles, you can contact him at (435) 628-1711 or jmckenna@barney-mckenna.com.