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Are real estate agents contacting you after a loved one's death?

You've just lost a loved one. Perhaps your spouse has passed away. Maybe your elderly parent has died. Amid everything else you have to deal with, you suddenly find yourself receiving calls or letters from real estate agents offering to sell your home. Sometimes they'll make the pitch that they'll handle things "with sensitivity."

These solicitations can be disconcerting. However, the practice is nothing new. In the past, some real estate agents would scour the obituary pages looking for widows and widowers who may no longer need or be able to afford their home after their spouse died. They might seek out adult children who may need to sell their parents' home after a death.

Some even turn up at funerals. One real estate executive says he knew a broker early in his career who "went to more funerals on a weekly basis than I ever thought I'd go to in my entire life." He noted, however, that she "could be sensitive and accommodating and show condolence and yet be there to help them if they needed it."

Now, of course, with sites like Legacy.com, it's easy to find obituaries from all over the country within seconds. Many include next-of-kin information that people can use to contact loved ones -- unfortunately, sometimes for unscrupulous purposes.

Many agents get leads through local probate courts. If the deceased person had a will, it becomes a public record when filed. A will can include a treasure trove of information for real estate agents and others.

Contacting surviving loved ones to offer to help them sell a home isn't illegal or even -- depending on your point of view -- unscrupulous. Many people indeed do need to sell their home after their spouse passes away. Perhaps it's too big, too expensive or holds too many sad memories. They may want to downsize, move to an assisted living facility or even relocate to be close to other family members.

Of course, if and when you sell, you should do some research to make sure the real estate agent who's contacted you (or the one you eventually choose) is properly licensed and has a good reputation. If you're selling a home that you and your deceased spouse owned together or one that belonged to your parents, there may be some complex legal issues to deal with. An experienced real estate attorney can help you navigate those.

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