Wire Fraud Awareness in the Real Estate Industry

By: Jonathan Holfinger, Esq. | Attorney/Partner, OLTP, NTP

Industry-wide, we’ve seen a large increase in wire fraud incidents. In a majority of cases, the cyber criminals have gained access to the real estate transaction by compromising email accounts through phishing.

NWT President, Jonathan Holfinger, shares how real estate professionals can to protect their clients by enabling multi-factor authentication, especially on email accounts.

Check out our how-to guide for enabling multi-factor authentication for popular email platforms here:

How to Enable Multi-Factor Authentication For Gmail, Outlook, and iCloud

Step 1.) Open Your Google Account by heading to www.google.com/account

Step 2.) In the navigation panel, select security.

Step 3.) Under “Signing in to Google” select 2-Step Verification > Get started.

Step 4.) Follow the on-screen steps.

How to Enable Multi-Factor Verification for Your Outlook Account

Step 1.) Go to the Security basics page at https://account.microsoft.com/security and sign in with your Microsoft account.

Step 2.) Select “Advanced security options”

Step 3.) Under “Two-step verification”, choose “Set up two-step verification” to turn it on.

Step 4.) Follow the on screen prompts

How to Enable Multi-Factor Verification for Your AppleID and iCloud Account Using Your iPhone

Step 1.) Go to Settings > [your name] > Password & Security.

Step 2.) Tap Turn On Two-Factor Authentication.

Step 3.) Tap Continue.

Step 4.) Enter the phone number where you want to receive verification codes when you sign in. You can choose to receive the codes by text message or automated phone call.

Step 5.) Tap Next.

Step 6.) Enter the verification code to verify your phone number and turn on two-factor authentication.

Want to Enable Multi-Factor Verification for Your AppleID and iCloud Account Over the Web? Here’s How:

Step 1.) Go to appleid.apple.com, then sign in with your Apple ID.

Step 2.) Answer your security questions, then tap Continue.

Step 3.) You’ll see a prompt to upgrade your account security. Tap Continue.

Step 4.) Click Upgrade Account Security.

Step 5.) Enter the phone number where you want to receive verification codes when you sign in. You can choose to receive the codes by text message or automated phone call.

Step 6.) Click Continue.

Step 7.) Enter the verification code to verify your phone number and turn on two-factor authentication.

Why EVERYONE Should Obtain a Title Insurance Policy

By: Robert Altman, III, Esq. | Attorney

Title Insurance Policy – A contract of title insurance under which the insurer, in keeping with the terms of the policy, agrees to indemnify the insured against loss arising from claims against the insured interest. 

Unfortunately, the adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is not exactly accurate for all life lessons. Sometimes, your mistake is devastating and there is no recovering from it. Period.

To be clear, I am not talking about a situation where you choose between two reasonable choices and the option not chosen would have proven to be more beneficial. Rather, I am getting at a situation where the choice is between doing something you know, or should know, is likely in your best interest, and doing something that amounts to betting it all on black at the casino. That is exactly the decision you are making when you choose between obtaining a title insurance policy or taking a risk and not protecting your investment.

When I first started out as a lawyer a file came across my desk which left a lasting impression on me. Nearly a decade later I can still hear the voices of the then homeowners who, when they called me, were inaudible because their voices were shaking so much. The basic facts of the matter are simple enough:

Seller sold her property to Buyers, who obtained a mortgage to purchase the property. The lender for Buyers obtains a Lenders Policy of Title Insurance. The Buyers do not obtain any policy of title insurance. A year goes by and everything is great. The Buyers receive a notice in the mail that a mortgage note is in default, with a lender they had never heard of, and that the mortgage and therefore the property was going into foreclosure. The Buyers call the title company, which informs them that the mortgage was released per the abstract report provided by the title searcher and provide them with the release. The Buyers contact the mortgage company which sent the notice regarding the release and the mortgage company informs the buyers that the release is fraudulent. The Seller had recorded a fraudulent release of her mortgage and absconded with nearly $400,000. The mortgage company takes legal action to nullify the fraudulent release and proceeds with foreclosure naming the Buyers (the current owners) and the Buyers’ mortgage lender.

What happens next is the cost or benefit of the decision discussed above. The Buyer’s mortgage lender filed a title claim on their lenders policy and was made whole within the month. The underwriter (insuring the claim under that policy) hired an attorney which pursed the Seller for fraud, etc., located the Seller and commenced a costly litigation to reclaim over $300,000 for the amount paid out to the Buyers’ mortgage lender. The Seller’s mortgage company proceeded with the foreclosure action, obtained and sold the home, recovering a portion of what was owed to them. The Buyers…lost everything.

In the above case, the Buyers only choice was to hire an attorney, they could not afford, to pursue a person who was already being pursued by their mortgage lender’s loan policy underwriter. In total, the Buyers lost their down payment, all built up equity, the value of improvements being made to the property, and tarnished the happy memories of buying a home and building something together.

The lesson is simple, don’t gamble with piece of mind.

When I first started at Northwest Title, I read a piece of literature (below) that is passed around with various ways a person can lose their home (or lender can lose their investment) if they don’t have title insurance; I made it to #2 and a chill went down my back. Lesson learned.

Common Title Problems:

1.            False impersonation of the true owner of the land

2.            Forged deeds, releases, etc

3.            Instruments executed under fabricated or expired power of attorney

4.            Deeds delivered after death of grantor or grantee or without consent of grantor

5.            Undisclosed or missing heirs

6.            Misinterpretation of wills

7.            Deeds by persons supposedly single but secretly married

8.            Birth or adoption of children after date of a will

9.            Surviving children omitted from a will

10.          Mistakes made in recording legal documents

11.          Deeds in lieu of foreclosure given under duress

12.          Deed of community property recited to be separate property

13.          Errors in tax records, e.g., listing payment against wrong property

14.          Undisclosed divorce of spouse who conveys as consort’s heir

15.          Marital rights of spouse purportedly, but not legally, divorced

And many more.

Estate Planning Solutions

By: Kristen Humphrey-Schulz, Esq. | Associate Attorney

What is an Estate Plan?

With the start of the New Year comes new challenges, resolutions, and a time to re-evaluate aspects of your life.  Perhaps this new year you plan to work on items you may have put off or ignored.  One of those items may be your estate plan.  An estate plan is the collection of legal documents that address the management and disposal of an individual’s assets after their passing.  Those documents may be a last will and testament, a trust, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, living will, and/or transfer on death affidavit, depending on your state of residence. 

A common misconception many of us have heard: I only need an estate plan if I am wealthy, elderly or have children.  These misconceptions are why many individuals ignore or set aside estate planning until a later date, which may prove detrimental to your loved ones upon your passing.  An estate plan is not only for a select group of people, but rather is for anyone at the age of majority who wishes to pass their assets and ease the burden that family members bear when handling a loved one’s estate.  Even if you are young and single with no children, you have assets, and those assets may be subject to probate upon your passing.  An individual or family seeking to begin the estate planning process should first contact a qualified estate planning attorney to discuss their needs.  

Here we will address some of the most common questions we receive regarding estate planning to shed light on the importance of a properly drafted estate plan that effectively conveys your wishes.

Estate Planning Tools 

There are a variety of estate planning tools, however estate planning tools are not one-size fits all, where each document is almost identical for each person.  Rather, an estate plan is comprised of a combination of a few or in some cases many estate planning tools.  Documents such as a power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, and living will may augment an estate plan.  In other cases, an estate plan may only consist of a last will and testament and a living trust.  What tools are utilized in each plan are specific to the individual circumstances and wishes of the client.  Discuss your wishes with an estate planning attorney to develop a custom estate plan tailored to those needs. 

Last Will and Testament

Fact or fiction: Does having a will avoid probate of my assets?  We often hear this common question and too often we hear the falsity that a will avoids probate, when in fact, a will is not even designed to avoid probate.  Rather, a will is a legal document that details how an individual desires their property be distributed after death through the probate process.  While this tool is not designed to avoid probate, when drafted properly, a will can be a helpful tool to augment your estate plan.  And understanding what is a will is a vital step towards having a comprehensive estate plan.  

You may then find yourself asking: can I draft my own will?  While there is no legal requirement that an attorney must draft your will, by drafting your own will, you run the risk of costly errors that affect how your assets are distributed to family and friends upon your passing.  Therefore, it is always recommended to seek the advice of an estate planning attorney to have your will drafted.  Naming beneficiaries is an important aspect of a last will and testament along with naming an executor of your estate.  An executor is to be a trusted individual who carries out the terms of the will.  In many cases, individuals will name a close family member as executor or co-executors, such as a spouse, parent, or child 18 years or older.  If an executor is not properly named, the designation of an executor will be determined by the probate court, which may not always align with who you would choose.  

In addition to having a properly drafted will, you cannot overlook the importance of a properly executed will.  In the state of Ohio, a will must be witnessed by two disinterested witnesses.  If this requirement is not met, the will is not valid.  That begs another important question: who are disinterested witnesses?  These are individuals that have no bearing or interest on the designations you made in your drafted will.  Family members are usually interested parties and not appropriate to serve as witnesses.  Ideally seek an outside party such as bankers at your local branch, nurses at the hospital if you are signing a will there, or office staff, to name a few options.  And once you sign your will and it is properly witnessed, it is effective indefinitely, unless you revoke the will or make changes, known as codicils, prior to your passing.  

There’s Usually More to An Estate Plan than a Will 

While the will is an important estate planning tool, it certainly is not the only tool.  Most estate plans utilize a combination of tools to create beneficiary designations.  Further, estate planning tools are not all designed to determine after death distributions, but tools such as a living will, power of attorney, and living trust are utilized during the life of the grantor.  

You’ve likely heard of a living will, if you’ve ever had a hospital visit, you’ll know the hospital almost always asks if you have a living will.  That document is very important to health care workers, as it is a legal document that outlines terminally ill and end-of life healthcare wishes.  Preparing a living will helps your loved ones by alleviating the burden to make critical decisions for you when you are no longer able.  Powers of attorney are other legal documents effective during your lifetime that allow you to appoint an agent to make decisions on your behalf for items such as healthcare and financial items, if you lack the capacity or are unavailable to do so.  

Now what about a trust?  We often receive these questions: do I really need a trust?  And if so, what type of trust?  A trust is a versatile estate planning tool that comes in many forms and can be revocable or irrevocable.  This tool can be utilized to ensure assets in the trust are distributed according to the grantor’s wishes and even provide protection for those assets. Determining whether a trust would be a useful tool to augment your estate plan is to be discussed with an estate planning attorney, as that answer varies based on individual goals, circumstances, and assets.  And when properly drafted, a trust can often avoid probate.  

Reviewing Your Estate Plan

Once you have an estate plan, don’t simply put away your documents and never look at them again.  Updating an estate plan can be just as important as the act of making an estate plan.  Circumstances change throughout life, and changes often call for an estate plan update.   Events such as the birth of a child, a child reaching the age of majority, divorce, or death of a loved one are a few examples that would usually warrant immediate changes to an estate plan.  In general, reviewing an estate plan every five years or so will give you the chance to go over your wishes and see if anything needs updated.  

Updates to an estate plan are often a small change such as an amendment to a living trust, but can also be very consequential, such as revoking a will and having a new one drafted.  Reviewing your estate plan with an estate planning attorney is a critical step of the estate planning process that may be overlooked.  If this step is ignored, the beneficiary designations in place upon your passing may not accurately reflect your wishes.  For example, if you are married at the time your estate plan is crafted and you express in your documents you wish to leave all property to your spouse, and you later divorce but do not update your estate plan, your property may be distributed to an ex-spouse even if that was not your intention.  

Final Thoughts 

Now what if I understand the importance of an estate plan but don’t know where to begin?  If you think estate planning is a daunting task, do not fear, with proper direction, it can be accomplished with minimal stress compared to the potential stress created if you do not have an estate plan.  Contacting a qualified estate planning attorney is the first step.  When you schedule a meeting with an estate planning attorney, it is important to prepare.  Consider your final wishes, account for your assets, make a list of questions, and gather important financial and legal documents to share with your lawyer during the meeting.  And once you have the estate plan in place, you can check off one item on your list of resolutions for the New Year.