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I am an attorney with 30 years of experience; I hope to provide you information that will help you in resolving your question.
If 40 years have passed by without a payment it is fairly certain that the debt is time barred by the Statute of Limitations for the state that the property is in. The Statute of Limitations bars legal action on matters after a period of time goes by.
You do not indicate what state your in, but this link will tell you what the time period is for yours. Look at the time for written contract:
Because the debt is time barred it is no longer owed. To clear the title the buyer's family would file an action in court to quiet the title. A quiet Title Action seeks an Order form the Court that will clear any conflicting claims to the property, including the record of this debt.
The seller's family should know that they could wind up with nothing. If this old debt is the only cloud on the title it is worth it to the buyer's family to make a settlement to avoid the expense of the court proceeding.
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