What You Should Know About an Affidavit of Death

Affidavit of death
An affidavit of death is recorded in the public records. © Big Stock Photo

Question: Is There a Parody About an Affidavit of Death?

A reader asks: "A friend of mine who is a vice president of a title company suggested that I market to people who have recorded an Affidavit of Death (death of a loved one) and approach them to sell their home or possibly attend the funerals. What would you recommend is the proper verbiage or protocol to approach these potential clients? I want to be dignified. He told me if I do not approach them another REALTOR may. I am open to the idea but want to know the correct protocol. Thanks, Debbie."

Answer: This particular topic about an Affidavit of Death has been on my mind lately, probably because I've been selling an unusually high number of homes in Sacramento that involve a death in some manner. At first blush, I'm tempted to say that you have a great idea—hounding grieving relatives—and thanks for the idea, Debbie, I should go do it myself.

I'm just joking with you, Debbie. Let's get serious about death. First, you could pull the name of the deceased from an Affidavit of Death recorded in the public records. Bear in mind, however, that not all Affidavits of Death are recorded immediately upon kicking the bucket. You might be better off scouring the Death Notices published in the newspaper.

What Is an Affidavit of Death?

For the rest of you, an Affidavit of Death is an instrument typically signed by a relative or a person close to the deceased. It states the dead person is the same person who was in title to real property described in the Affidavit of Death.

The Affidavit is generally recorded in the public records, along with a certified copy of a death certificate, often at the time the sale of the property is consummated.

However, the Affidavit of Death and accompanying death certificate can be filed at any time by the survivors. Probate lawyers generally prepare the Affidavit of Death, but in the past title companies would prepare the document, although you might find a few title companies which still do it today.

Now, back to you, Debbie. Here are my thoughts about why this is a bad idea for you. But if you insist upon doing it, here are a few brilliant ideas.

How Not to Approach the Grieving When Chasing an Affidavit of Death

  • Wait until the body is in the ground or otherwise disposed of. I know that your heart is in the right place, Debbie, and obviously you want to protect the grieving family from being battered by a less sensitive real estate agent who is perhaps rushing in to make a fast buck, but patience is a virtue, they say. After the last shovel of dirt, go for it.
  • Do not call attention to yourself. You should probably not zip into the parking lot at the funeral service with real estate advertising plastered all over your vehicle and blasting Warren Zevon belting out Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Nor should you wear a flashing sandwich board that pulses with lights:  List With Debbie. List With Debbie.
  • Do not hover by the guest book to hand out business cards. Muttering: "I'm so sorry for your loss; you should list with Debbie," is likely to get you a fast invitation to leave. Besides, people can't read your cards when their eyes are all puffy, watery and blurry.
  • Don't offer to speak during the service. When the minister asks if anybody else has anything they want to add, do NOT raise your hand, regardless of the temptation. This is not a good time to perform your elevator speech: if you're looking for a Realtor, no matter how attentive or distraught the audience appears, because they do not know you. Please remember, while your enthusiasm for the listing grows, you are still a stranger to these people.
  • Refrain from littering windshields in the parking lot with Meet Debbie flyers. Although you were so thoughtful to print these flyers on the back of the Affidavit of Death, this marketing approach might seem like you're saving trees since the Affidavit of Death is doing dual purpose, but how about this—how about not printing the affidavit at all? Consider instead making a donation to Nature Conservancy. Besides, trust me, your flyers will simply fly away in a breeze, swat an unsuspecting child in the face, and then the child's parents will throw rocks at your car for making their kid cry.

Acceptable Ways to Approach the Grieving When Chasing an Affidavit of Death

  • Consider handing out small boxes of tissues, branded with your company name. I'm not suggesting you leap over the pews or toss a tissue box to that guy at the back of the room, but removing a couple of tissue boxes from your bag, nudging the person next to you and whispering while dabbing tissue at your eyes, please pass these down, is a quiet and dignified way to introduce yourself. Your company name, website and phone number should be printed discretely, using a tasteful font like Baskerville italic; no Comic Sans, please. Then, quietly switch rows several times during the service to distribute.
  • Pass repeatedly through the line for food. This way you can mingle without being obvious. As you reach for the wedge of cheese stuck to a toothpick with an olive on top, and yes, I know, you hate olives, you can strike up an intimate conversation with the person in line next to you: "I had SUCH trouble recording the Affidavit of Death after my mother died; do you like olives?"
  • Hire a Scottish bagpipe player to entertain. This is stupendous. Nobody will ask where he came from. Nobody will ask him to leave. He can sashay into the funeral in a kilt, playing that bagpipe, and all the women who were sobbing will stop to pay respects. When he is finished playing, the bagpipe player can announce in that charming Scottish lilt: Sponsored in Sympathy by Debbie Realty.
  • Share a photo slide show about the departed on your iPad. This presentation can be called Favorite Places of Mr. Newly Departed. Begin with the Affidavit of Death. Then, using Photoshop, you can creatively insert the body of the deceased into photos of various landmarks about town. Of course, one of those historic landmarks is your real estate office. Share this over cocktails at the reception. Be sure to drink more than necessary.
  • Introduce the listing contract party game when everybody has started to drink. Drunk and depressed people make the best real estate clients, ever. They are too drunk to argue with you and won't remember anything the next day anyway and, by then, they will have signed your listing agreement. They will be too embarrassed to ask how it happened. You will be a hero.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.