Beware the gifts sent your way. The beautiful tropical dream may not be what it seems.

Bahamas dream disappointing to the extreme

By  Quentin Schesnuik, Catholic Register Special
  • November 2, 2014

The voice over the phone said, “Our parish has been bequeathed some land in the Bahamas! What’s the next step?” 

It was lunchtime and I was eating a sandwich at my desk. Salami and cheese to be exact. It was quite good. I’m usually dubious regarding “land-in-the- Bahamas” type phone calls. I’ve received too many e-mails telling me that huge bank balances await me in Nigeria and automated phone calls saying I’ve won a cruise. I maintain a healthy skepticism when it comes to these types of things. 

But in this case, the documents were faxed over and, sure enough, a parish had been bequeathed a gift of land in the Bahamas. The documents were legitimate, yet something seemed strange about them. 

The paperwork revealed an interesting fact. The trust company handling the estate had been unable to sell the land and the Bahamian government had refused to buy it back. Inside was a letter asking if any beneficiary of the estate was interested in buying out the plots of land. 

Why would anyone want to give up land in the Bahamas? I did a search on the company listed as the manager of the estate and found an interesting message board where people had been posting comments. Here are sections of some of the more interesting ones: 

• “I have two lots, purchased in the late 1960s. I would like to sell them, but can’t seem to find enough information. Service fees are up to date, but I seem to have spent more on services fees than what I can determine the property is worth. Anyone have any information that will help me?” 

• “There are thousands of us who own property. Too bad we can’t all get together and do something. That was quite the land scam! It’s still going on with the service fees they charge each year.” 

• “I also own property and it has been in our family for years. The property was transferred to me after the death of my mother in 1996 and every year I pay the service charge. At one point I contacted the service company inquiring as to what was going on and the answer I received amounted to nothing. I’m thinking the best thing to do is let it go and not pay any further annual fees and chalk it up to one big mistake that happened to my parents.” 

• “We went to see our lot first hand. Needless to say there is nothing there, we had no idea how to find our property therefore decided to no longer pay the yearly service fees which is supposed to be used to maintain and repair roads and utilities. Now they have given 30 days to pay the outstanding $595.00 or they will repossess our lot. What a scam.” 

• “My in-laws purchased a lot here back in the 1960s. Around 1990, my husband and I travelled to Freeport (Bahamas) for another occasion and took some time to rent a car and drive to the area. We were strongly warned not to travel there as it was far and if anything happened, we would not be found! We did anyway (we were young and foolish) and only found dirt roads and no lot markings. There was evidence of some drinking and partying but nothing else there. It was kind of creepy.” 

The complaints on the message board went on and on. After reviewing the file, I have no doubt that the person who originally bought the land had good intentions when they bequeathed it. They just didn’t know what was going on. They, like so many other good people, had been swindled. 

This highlights the importance of seeking professional advice when dealing with real estate, especially when it is overseas. It also shows the importance for beneficiaries of an estate to obtain professional legal advice and to read everything they are sent before signing any documents. 

Obviously, we opted not to buy out the land from the estate. 

If you are looking to gift land and need professional advice, the Archdiocese of Toronto maintains a list of professional advisors in your area. Contact the Development Office at (416) 934-3411 or e-mail: development@archtoronto. org. 

(Schesnuik is the Manager of Planned Giving and Personal Gifts for the Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto. He is available for estate planning presentations by phone (416-934-3400 ext. 561) or e-mail: development@ archtoronto.org.) 

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