Sparked by alleged scams in Oakland and Macomb counties, state legislation was signed into law today to reform a system that allows Probate Court “public administrators” to take control of an unclaimed estate and profit from the acquisition if no heirs are found.
The new law was prompted by the suspicious activities of two longtime Macomb County figures, attorney Cecil St. Pierre (pictured above, right) and prominent real estate agent Ralph Roberts (above, left).
Roberts teamed up with St. Pierre, who serves as the Warren City Council president, to take advantage of a provision in state law that said a county public administrator appointed by the Attorney General’s Office can create an estate 42 days after a death if no heirs of the deceased are known. The public administrator then controls the assets, including any homes owned by the deceased.
St. Pierre and a Roberts’ company, Probate Asset Recovery, billed the estates for thousands of dollars in fees, plus Roberts received real estate commissions when he sold the homes.
Attorney General Bill Schuette hailed the new law as an effective fix for the flaws in the previous system. In a news release, the AG’s Office said the changes will combat probate abuse by requiring a more thorough search for heirs and limits on legal fees charged by public administrators.
“Actions that came to light last year made it clear that now is the time to make changes to the public administration system,” Schuette said. “What has happened in the system is unacceptable and these changes to an almost 40-year-old law will help ensure this never happens again. By creating a clear, current and direct path for public administrators to follow in the probate process we can better protect Michigan citizens and weed out any bad actors.”
St. Pierre, who also serves as chair of the 9th Congressional District Republicans, was suspended indefinitely by Schuette last year when complaints were filed by the public and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) in Detroit aired reports of heirs having homes “sold out from under them.”
St. Pierre resigned from his public administrator position last May, while complaining of a “barrage of false allegations” against him. In June 2017, a complaint alleging impropriety by St. Pierre was filed with the state Attorney Grievance Commission, according to Channel 7. And Roberts’ Probate Asset Recovery office was raided by the FBI and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department.
St. Pierre and Roberts maintain that they followed the law and did nothing wrong. A group known as Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship has called them “predators.”
The new law will add three weeks – a total of 63 days – to the timeline following a death before a public administrator can take control of the deceased’s assets. Other reforms include a limit on legal fees at 10 percent of the value of an estate.