Offspring claim transaction is illegal based upon parents’ earlier promise

Ilyce R. Glink
Inman News

Q: Forty years ago, my parents were given land from my mother’s cousin on which to build a summer home for their children, including my sister, brother and me.

My parents told everyone for 30-plus years that this property was to be left to all of us. My brother moved to Florida 20 years ago and does not visit often. Actually, he has been in Connecticut only six times since his move to Florida.

I have been staying at or visiting the summer home continually since 1968. My sister and her husband and two daughters visit as frequently.

Although I was not able to perform any of the regular maintenance on the exterior of the house, my sister and I took care of the interior as necessary. My parents paid for, and were responsible for, the house and never asked any of us for money.

Here’s my problem: Without my brother’s or my knowledge, two years ago my parents surreptitiously sold the house to my sister for approximately $19,000.

The house is appraised at approximately $485,000. It is a year-round residence with five bedrooms and two full baths.

I do not believe that this is a legal transfer and would like to know what my legal rights are.

A: Why wouldn’t this be a legal transfer? Certainly, you can consult with an attorney on this issue, but if your parents own the property and pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the property, they are well within their rights to sell it to whomever they want, and for whatever price. If you feel you have been untreated fairly, you should talk to your parents — not sue them in a court of law.

Just because your parents said they’d leave the house to all of their children equally doesn’t mean they have to do that.

While your parents told you that they intended to give the house equally to all of you sometime in the future, they probably have the right to change their mind and sell the home to your sister. Since you didn’t mention if your parents are unable to take care of their financial affairs, as adults they have the right to take care of their financial assets.

I’d open up the conversation with your parents about what happened and find out what they were thinking. Perhaps they are planning to leave you and your brother excluded from this windfall other assets to make up the difference in the value of the property.

In any case, your next move is to call your folks and have an open and honest discussion about what has happened and why they chose to keep it secret. If you don’t ask, it will seriously taint your relationship with them — and your sister.

Q: I love reading your real estate advice on investment properties and have a question.

I’m one of 12 family members that own a large piece of land with one rental house on it. The property was inherited some time ago and I’m ready to sell my share of it, but the other family members are not willing put it on the market and don’t have money to buy my 1/12 interest.

Is there some way I can get out of the property? Can the others be forced to sell the property or would a lawsuit need to be filed to get them moving on it?

A: You don’t really want to bring a partition lawsuit against your entire family. That would be time-consuming and emotionally messy and unless the property is worth millions, you may spend more than what your one-twelfth share is worth.

(And, can you just imagine the talk around the Thanksgiving table?)

If none of the other family members has the cash to buy you out, and you don’t want to sue them, you’re probably stuck with this property — for now.

Unfortunately, your situation is a great example of what not to do when leaving property to heirs.

It’s difficult to have a dozen people inherit a single piece of property, unless it is an extremely valuable property that generates significant revenue.

It’s tough enough to get two people to agree on a financial course of action, but getting a dozen people to come to a meeting of the minds is next to impossible. There are always one or two people who either want to keep a property when everyone else wants to sell or want to sell when everyone else wants to hold steady.

The owner of this particular property should have directed his or her estate to sell it and then divide the proceeds. At that point, with the property officially up for sale, anyone (or even a couple of anyones) could have stepped up and purchased the property.

It’s far better to choose to purchase something than to force others to sell.

I can’t think of a good solution for you, but if any of my readers have a suggestion, I’ll publish it here and online at my forum at www.thinkglink.com/forum.

Copyright 2008 Ilyce R. Glink

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