Real Stories of Survivor Homeowners

Attorneys at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) have assisted 49 homeowners with this problem in the past three years.  A few of their stories are shared below, with their permission. If you’re caught in a similar situation, or want to share your experience, please visit this page for resources.

As you read their stories, you’ll see some common themes emerge, including:

  • refusals to speak with a surviving homeowner;
  • mixed messages and inaccurate information;
  • lengthy delays and lost applications;
  • near foreclosures; and
  • a remarkable unwillingness to assist these homeowners during an already difficult time in their lives.

Soledad: Ed Binsacca is Korean War veteran who was on title for their home, but was not on the mortgage loan. He applied for a modification with his wife, but she passed away before the final modification documents were sent to them.  The servicer had refused to accept his signature for the modification.

Richmond: Virginia Chestnut, an 80-year old widow, has been the sole owner of her Richmond, California, home since her husband passed away in 2011. Though only her husband’s name was on the Countrywide mortgage, she continued to make payments after he died. When she was unable to keep up with the payments (her income was reduced after his death), she requested a loan modification. However, the mortgage servicer (Saxon) refused to talk to her, sent collections letters addressed to her dead husband, and told her she would have to get her dead husband to sign a power of attorney before they would speak with her. Saxon later transferred the loan to a new servicer, Ocwen, which refused to give Ms. Chestnut a point of contact at the company and took two months to process her loan assumption application, and only did so after an attorney from Housing and Economic Rights (HERA) got involved in the case.

Los Angeles:  In June 2010, Shateel Sharma’s father, Gaja Sharma, passed away. Shateel, and her sister, Varsha Sharma had been designated as trustees for her father’s living trust in 2004.  They contacted the servicer on the mortgage after their father’s death and thus began three years of stonewalling, inaccurate information, six modification and assumption applications, refused payments, lost documents, letters addressed to their deceased father and more. Her story was featured in an Orange County Register article.

American Canyon: In 2004, Leon and Ella Vinson bought property in Napa County, and incorporated it into a trust, which made Lisa Booker (their daughter) sole trustee and beneficiary post death. After Ella Vinson died in 2006, the Bookers recorded the death certificate and grant deed, and received the interest in the property. Although the trust and property were still in Leon Vinson’s name, the Bookers lived in the property and made mortgage payments, which included escrow, to ASC/Wells Fargo. In November, 2009, the Bookers fell behind on the payments due to a hardship. They spoke with ASC/Wells Fargo, and made a payment in December 2009 to bring the loan current. For the next several years, the Bookers would experience multiple mixed messages, incorrect information, their modification packages being lost, and came close to having their home foreclosed on. Their attorneys at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates had to escalate the case within Wells Fargo on multiple occasions. See their story here: 7 on Your Side Helps With Widow Foreclosure Nightmare.

Oakland: Greg Kelly passed away in July 2013. Prior to his death, he had placed his home in a trust and designated his son, Ian Kelly, as the beneficiary. Due to his illness, Greg had fallen behind on his payments, but had requested a modification from Chase, received it, and made four trial payments under it, but was unable to continue after the payments increased. Chase began pursuing a foreclosure sale against Ian, with a sale date set in December. Ian began working with an attorney at HERA and in November 2013, he requested both an assumption of the loan and a modification. For the next several months, Ian faced runarounds from Chase, including having to submit multiple authorizations. Meanwhile, the foreclosure process was moving forward.  Ian and his mom Ka Rynn’s story was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition: Foreclosure Overhaul Comes Too Slowly For Many Homeowners and, thanks to help from HERA attorney Lisa Sitkin, were able to remain in the home.

Madera: After Blanche Robles’ husband passed away, she encountered a number of difficulties with the mortgage servicer.  Her husband had negotiated a modification before he passed away, but Chase, the servicer, wouldn’t allow her to sign it because she wasn’t employed.  After he passed away, Chase refused to talk to her about assuming or modifying the loan because she was not on the modification. With help from a nonprofit attorney, she was able to remain in her home.

Vallejo: Aurora Macdula is an 84 year old widow.  Mrs. Macdula’s husband, who was the sole borrower, died in November 2011. He defaulted on the mortgage loan in July 2011 after he got sick. Thereafter, Mrs. Macdula contacted Wells Fargo to inform them about her husband’s death, and told Wells she wanted to start making payments. When she called, Wells transferred her from department to department—to the estates department, and then to bankruptcy, for no apparent reason. The Single Point of Contact at Wells sent an acknowledgment letter of some sort to the family, and Mrs. Macdula kept calling her but never received a return call. When she finally reached a live human, that person refused to talk to Mrs. Macdula because she did not have an authorization from her dead husband. Fortunately, she connected with attorneys at HERA who assisted her to remain in her home.

Madera: Kimberly Pickens’ husband passed away a year ago (February 2015) in a tragic vehicle collision on his way to work. Kimberly’s loan is owned by FannieMae and serviced by Seterus. Seterus insists that Kimberly needs to go through probate in order to assume the loan and receive a modification. However, she’s already on title. She is working with an attorney at HERA.