Sibling money disparity stuff
October 25, 2011 12:25 PM   Subscribe

How to best reach an agreement on a fair settlement percentage after the sale of our family home?

My brother put our family home on the market last month. It sold for a decent price. After paying off some debts related to the second mortgage, and setting up a trust for his mother (my stepmother) there is about 200,000 dollars remaining.

He called me last night to inform me that the property had sold and that he'd be sending me a check for $20,000. As he is the executor of the will and the house, and I believe was given power of attorney by his mom, this news was delivered to me as a 'done deal.'

I balked and explained that I felt I should receive a higher pay out. We both shared the same father, it was his house, we both lived there growing up together as kids, as the eldest I helped raise him and protect him for the general insanity of two alcoholic parents, etc.

His rational for taking more is that he helped care form my father for years, towards the end of my dad's, and also dealt with other complicated issues over the years regarding his mother and risks to the house, etc. All of which are true. He also has two children and a wife; whereas I'm a gay man without children and living alone (this later statement is a projection on my part, meaning, I feel this is the way he experiences my life and life choices, etc. as being less involved and complicated as his [not true though])

I said, yes, you definitely deserve more money in this settlement, but I don't deserve so little. We came to an agreement to think about this some more during the week. And now we are scheduled to talk again on Sunday.

Any suggestions as to a psychological strategy to adopt for procuring a higher percentage of the 200,000 thousand? I'd be happy with 25%.

If worse case scenario was to develop, would bringing an attorney in to the mix do anything in my favor? I loathe that notion but also feel like it might snap things into focus better. I hate shit like this. But there it is.


posted by zenpop to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First, I would like to say that I'm sorry your brother is being an ass. The right way to handle this, IMO, is to nominally split the proceeds 50/50, with your brother getting an extra share for any expenses he incurred doing those things he listed. Say he spent $50,000 maintaining the house. It would be fair to take half that out of your share if you didn't help pay for that at the time.

It worked that way for my sister and I, anyway. She owed me some money previously, so that was taken out of her share and she paid for half of the selling expenses from her share. Left her with about $7500 on $35,000, but everybody was happy because there was a clear accounting of how that number was arrived at. It wasn't just "oh, I feel like I did more so I should get more".

It sucks that we have to assign a dollar value to intangibles, but that's the way the world works.

One word of advice, though: Don't make this the hill you die on. While you would not be alone in poisoning the well (it takes two to tango), it would be a great shame if there were ongoing resentment because of this. Family is more important than money, usually.
posted by wierdo at 12:51 PM on October 25, 2011

He's the executor? What did the will say?

You need a lawyer immediately. He may be violating state law. He has a fiduciary duty towards the estate and must execute the terms of the will. This is all, all, all wrong.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:07 PM on October 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Don't let yourself suggest that he deserves more money for his future than you do just because he has a family and you're a single man. You never know what'll happen 3-4years down the road, you may be in the same boat as he is now.

You clearly think he's entitled to more money than you, but the two of you differ on the split. He thinks you're entitled to 10% ($20k) and that he's entitled to 90% ($180k). I don't know what he did in those last couple years, but my gut feeling is that it doesn't entitle him to 9x what you get. I'd suggest you start thinking about this $200k as two pools of money each which should be split between the two of you.
* I used to live here / this is our family money (split 50/50 between y'all)
* Work done in the last few years money (all to him, maybe 90/10 split)

His initial offer allocated 20% ($20k/each) to the former and 80% to the latter (+$160k for him). Your 25% ($50k) figure would make the split 50/50 between the two categories with him getting an additional $100k for his work in the last few years. That still seems unfair to me, but I don't know the details of those last years.

You may also want to discuss with him what you'd actually want to do with the money. When it's totally abstract, it may be hard for him to understand what you'd do with the extra cash. If you discuss concrete things, like say putting 20% down on a house, it's quickly apparent that with his initial offer he feels he's entitled to that (with much of his $180k left), while you are not (unless it's a $100k house).

Don't let him steamroll you on this, but I would do your best to try an negotiate this without a lawyer. You'll both be much happier if you came to an agreement and didn't waste any of the money, rather than your lawyers came to an agreement and each took a chunk.
posted by notpeter at 1:16 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

What Ironmouth said.

Though I can't tell from your post if you have seen the will as you make no mention of what it says, just that you think 25% is fair, maybe he is just following what it said to do. If he's not then I'd bring that up when you talk to him later, Id also at least look at getting some legal advice, maybe don't head straight to setting the lawyers on him as you have to weight the pros and cons of family vs money, but if he balks when you bring up what's in the will then mentioning you are going to get some legal advice might be enough to get him to do what the will says.
posted by wwax at 1:20 PM on October 25, 2011

Response by poster: Ironmouth:

When my father died years ago he left a crappy makeshift will that ended up being used to settle things after his burial. In that will he left the entire house and all contents to my stepmom, my brother's mother. My brother and I were designated nothing.

When my stepmom became ill and was moved out of the house this year, to live with her sister, where she is now, she put my brother, her son, in charge of the sale of the house. I believe she gave him power of attorney. He is also the sole heir in HER will, should she die.

My brother, last year, after telling me the content's of her will, said, "Don't worry we will split things." And also said, "When the house sells, we'll all get something."

The house sells. And now I'm getting 'something' -- but a pittance. It's shocking really, as my brother, heretofore has been very much a gentleman, quite loving, etc. Though as friends warned me: when money becomes involved, forget about what's fair, etc. I think they're right.

Do I have a legal leg here. Originally I thought not.
posted by zenpop at 1:21 PM on October 25, 2011

This is too emotional an approach to a legal matter. Look for an attorney with experience in collaborative mediation if you are planning on going outside what the will specified (I would recommend that you stick to the will however and maybe be the generous uncle that pays for his nieces/nephews education). I think his split is so bizzarely one-sided I would worry that your step mother has also not been treated fairly and may need a future bailout from you that you can't afford.
posted by saucysault at 1:21 PM on October 25, 2011

I would tell him that you do not want to make this an issue between him and you, that you are loathe to let this become a wedge so you would like the contact information for the attorney for the estate so you can work it out with him.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:26 PM on October 25, 2011

Response by poster: Folks. There is no will.

He sold the house, via power of attorney position that was given to him by my stepmother, his mother -- who is very much alive.

My father's will, from ten years ago when he died, left everything to my stepmom. His mother.

She lived in the house until this year, and then wanted done with it. My brother then put it up for sale. We are now discussing percentages of who gets what.

Hope that helps.

posted by zenpop at 1:26 PM on October 25, 2011

I'm not a lawyer (I can't even remember the last time I even saw one on TV).

It sounds like ownership of the house went from your father (who had it 100%) to your stepmother (who had it 100%). Your stepmother then gave control to your brother (100%).

It sounds to me like ownership stakes in this house circumnavigated you. The way your brother is treating you sure makes it sound like HE thinks the same thing - and he's offering you a pittance because, in his eyes, you don't legally deserve anything.

In the space between now and the meeting on Sunday, I'd talk to an attorney just to see what they say. Also - I wonder what your stepmother has to say? She is still the legal owner of the house, right? Are you on good enough terms with her to ask?
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:36 PM on October 25, 2011

Durr, I meant your stepmother was the legal owner of the house before it was sold, of course.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:37 PM on October 25, 2011

Consult an estate lawyer ASAP.

It could be that who gets what is moot as long as your stepmother is alive and presumably might need the funds for her care.

I do have to add that the notion that someone should get a larger inheritance because "they have a family" chaps my unmarried and childfree hide no end. If your stepmother were to die and this turned into an inheritance (instead of a prospective one) you would be justified in feeling stiffed and dissed. Estates and inheritances, in my experience, bring out the ugly in families like absolutely nothing else.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:09 PM on October 25, 2011

Is there a will or not? First you say there was a crappy makeshift will and then you said there isn't a will and then you said there was a will.

If the crappy makeshift will is legal then the house belonged to your step mother when it was sold and you're not entitled to anything unless you contest the will (which may be too late if its all settled). If there was no will or the will wasn't legal then you need to speak to a lawyer who can tell you what you're entitled to in your jurisdiction (again, possible too late, practically if not legally but it could give you some leverage in negotiations with your brother).

If you accept the validity of your father's will then you're not entitled to any of the proceeds and you don't have much in the way of ammo, other than your charms (or any dirty secrets you might know about your brother *heh*) to convince him to give you more money.

How were his other assets divided between the 2 of you? Presumably he left the house and contents to your step-mum so that she would have a place to live after he passed on. If his other assets were divided evenly between the two of you, you could make the argument that your father would have wanted the proceeds of the sale to be shared evenly if the house were to be sold.
posted by missmagenta at 2:19 PM on October 25, 2011

Response by poster: My father died ten years ago. His will left nothing to me or my brother. My stepmom got everything. Which was mainly the house.

She now allowed my brother, her son, to sell the house. Which he did.

She is living with her sister now.

My brother has control off the money from the sale. And offered me a pittance compared to what he'll be keeping because "he has a family and important needs."

My stepmom's will leaves everything to my brother when she dies. So he will benefit from that as well, though she is 78 and still alive.
posted by zenpop at 2:29 PM on October 25, 2011

Lets take your dad and his will out of the equation for the moment. At the time of the sale the house belonged to your step-mom. The proceeds of the sale belong to her/her estate. (her will isn't relevant at the moment, she's not dead yet!). If she's given the money or control of it to her son then its his to do with as he pleases. He doesn't have to give you anything (even leaving aside the issue of providing end-of-life care for your dad or any of the work he's done on the house issues) because the money belongs solely to his mum.

Bringing your dad and his will back into it, if you were left out of the will you could have grounds to contest it (as would your brother) if you would have received something if he'd died without a will. If you know the value of the estate this calculator will tell you how much you would have received if he had died without a will.
posted by missmagenta at 2:59 PM on October 25, 2011

Best answer: Since there is a will and you aren't in it then probably your strongest case will be to appeal to your stepmother to amend her will. Meanwhile, the money is hers to give away as she pleases (including giving your brother POA). Of course, this depends on your relationship with your stepmother and whether she is one of those "blood is thicker than water" people. It is a real shame your father did not think to include his children in his will and avoid all these hurt feelings.

It sounds like you have no leverage legally; you may want to be honest with your brother and ask for the 25% of the sale, pointing out that he will also be getting his own mother's estate (assuming you are unsuccessful in changing her will in your favour and it remaining that way until she dies). Acting entitled to the money when legally you are not is probably not going to help your case.
posted by saucysault at 2:59 PM on October 25, 2011

I don't think 10% is all that unreasonable, actually!

I don't see this as him dividing the family assets like an executor. I see this as your stepmother choosing to give him a lump sum. And then your brother choosing to give you a lump sum.

Is it possible that when he says he has family and important needs, he doesn't mean that he deserves the money more than you so he's taking some of your share, but that he means "hey, I'm giving you 10% of my money. But I can't give you more than this much because I have family and important needs".

I could be wrong. Does your step-mother intend the money to be split more evenly?

Ask your brother for 25%. Ask him nicely. From what you say about him, he seems like you have a good relationship and that he's a very giving person.
posted by coffeepot at 3:01 PM on October 25, 2011

The thing is, if he takes it to the courts, he may get zip, because it sounds like that may be all he is legally entitled to.

Talk to a lawyer to see if you have a legal leg to stand on.

If you don't have a legal leg to stand on, talk to your brother to see if you can get more like 25%, but know he can give you as much or little as he wants to.
posted by freshwater at 5:06 PM on October 25, 2011

Mod note: helpful constructive answers please, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:51 PM on October 25, 2011

I wonder too if you promised to make your nieces/nephews your heirs would also appease him in "keeping the money in the family". Since he is offering you some money he clearly feels you should get ~something~ but of course he will prioritise his wife and children's needs above your own, that is where pledging to ultimately give the money "back" may make him realise you also value his children (of course you could change your mind later).
posted by saucysault at 12:36 PM on October 26, 2011

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