Death and taxes
December 12, 2011 5:59 PM   Subscribe

My father died and left me and my sister his house. He willed her 2/3 and me 1/3. She's currently living in the house and I am not. I would like my 1/3 in money so I can buy my own place. My sister is not willing to hand over the cash and says she will put the house on the market next year. We do have a really good relationship when it comes to anything other than money, meaning I don't push the issue because she reacts unfavorably. What are my options?
posted by TLCplz to Law & Government (40 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You could wait it out, or you could push the issue. If you don't talk to her, nothing is going to happen.

Have you tried talking to her and telling her that you need the money sooner rather than later? Maybe she would be willing to buy your 1/3 portion of the house from you right now.

Or, since you own 1/3 of the house, would you be comfortable asking for 1/3 of the value of the rent while she's living in it? It seems to me that you should be entitled to that (though I'm not a lawyer). Of course, you are probably also responsible for 1/3 of the property tax and other fees.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your choices are:
1. Wait for her to sell it.
2. Convince her to buy you out to some degree now.
3. Force a sale of the property with a partition petition. This is a jerk move in your case. Also, there may be jurisdictional or situational details that could affect your ability to do that.
posted by michaelh at 6:06 PM on December 12, 2011

I think you need to be a bit more specific regarding your objectives--interpersonal, financial, personal--are you willing to alienate your sister, is there a sense of urgency on your part--are there any other stipulations in the will, does your sister have the money to buy you out, is there a firm plan for her to sell the house, etc Thanks
posted by rmhsinc at 6:07 PM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: My sister has the money to buy me out, but doen't feel comfortable handing over the cash because it will empty her savings account. Her and her husband have been living in the house for the last year and a half. They have been paying the taxes, which I think is only fair, since the house is paid off and they're living there rent free... whi'le I'm paying rent.

I don't have a sense of urgency, but I just feel like it's somehow unfair for me to wait for them to decide to put the house on the market.
posted by TLCplz at 6:11 PM on December 12, 2011

2nd mortgage for 1/3 the value, handed over to you in cash? (note: I know nothing about real estate...)
posted by roue at 6:14 PM on December 12, 2011 [16 favorites]

In that case I think selling a fraction of your interest to her would be a good compromise. 1/10th of a house, for example, is plenty to get a mortgage on a similarly priced house.
posted by michaelh at 6:15 PM on December 12, 2011

Honestly, I think you're being a little unfair here. Your dad gave you a third of a house, not a pile of cash that your sister has stashed in a suitcase somewhere. It doesn't sound like she's trying to keep anything from you; it sounds like she fully intends to sell it and to give you your share. But instead of waiting less than a year, you want her to empty out her savings account? What if something happens to her in the meantime, and she needs her savings?

If you thought she never intended to sell it, or to steal the money from you, that would be another thing, but as it is, I think you should just wait.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:18 PM on December 12, 2011 [15 favorites]

Agreed with Showbiz_liz, but I think you should be clear that you expect a timeline and a plan for your part of the house/money.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:27 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is there a way she can buy out half of your interest in the house now, and then give you the balance on the sale of the house? That way, she doesn't empty her savings, and you don't feel like you're just twiddling your thumbs with nada waiting to buy a place while she's living rent-free in a house you partially own.

Or, I agree, you pay 1/3 of the taxes and she pays you a third of the market rent -- however that math ends up working out.

I can totally understand why she doesn't want to empty her savings, but it seems unfair to me that she's essentially asking you to wait to get your inheritance while she's enjoying hers (by living in it). That being said, if by "next year" she means two weeks from now, I think you cool your jets and see what happens. If she means, like, May, though, it seems like you should have a chat. But maybe wait until after the holidays to tackle it.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:27 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

I just feel like it's somehow unfair for me to wait for them to decide to put the house on the market.

Yes it is, you don't know when she'll sell it. It could easily be that, in a year from now, she'll have a perfectly good and acceptable excuse as to why it is not time to sell. Let me emphasize, even the best people have needs that pop up that make big decisions, like selling a house, seem impossible.

I would be very clear that you find the situation temporary. I would tell her plainly, "I'd like my 1/3, but I understand that a house is not a liquid asset. You don't have to sell the house, but I need my portion by XX/XX/XX date."

I would give her options and help her find financing options. If the house is paid for, she can remortgage and obtain your funds that way. I think some of the above suggestions are nice too, such as asking for rent and deducting it from your 1/3 total. I think as many options as you can give is best.

I think having it in writing, and having a lawyer there to explain her options makes it sound official. You say money is an issue with your sister, then this will be an issue. There's no reason to be a dick, but there's no reason to capitulate.

Look at it this way: if someone gave you a house for 1/3 its value, would you think it is a great thing? I would, and this is how she should approach, though I realize the reality is that she's now paying for something she got for free.
posted by geoff. at 6:27 PM on December 12, 2011 [22 favorites]

roue has the right idea about how this works -- if she doesn't have the money, she borrows it with a mortgage. Is she the executor of the will? She has a responsibility to do what it says (basically), and not just when it is convenient for her. After 1.5 years? I'd get a lawyer to help her understand that executing a will is not done at her convenience/whim. You've been more than fair so far, and she has not extended the same courtesy.

I'd also have the lawyer look over all the paperwork. Seems strange to me that there's this house, with nobody (?) paying for homeowner's insurance, the homeowner's association dues, nothing done on her income or property taxes to reflect a change of ownership/inheritence? The will left without being executed, and her seemingly with the idea that it's more-or-less optional?
posted by Houstonian at 6:35 PM on December 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

People get really strange about money after a death. I've seen people I care about basically cheat someone out of a moderate inheritance of property, relying on that person's reluctance to go to court - and that too was a "you each inherit a share in a property, but one of you is actually using/living in it" situation. I would not be surprised, frankly, if your sister never sells the house - it's probably a giant snarl of money and emotions for her. If you're lucky, you can press her to buy you out; if you're not, you probably won't see anything that your dad left you unless you're willing to take her to court and wreck up the family. I hate to say this, because I know what it is to have money owed to you that you actually need, but don't count on ever seeing any money - anything you get in this situation is an unexpected extra.

The moral of this story - write your will such that you don't leave property to be be split unless it's easy to do so or unless you can write a provision that says that neither kid can live in the property unless they buy out the other.
posted by Frowner at 6:36 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

She is taking advantage of you. If she's been living in the house, she owes you 1/3 of the amount of rent she would be paying. She's not been paying you that.

I would get an attorney, let the attorney deal with your sister, it keeps you out of the middle of the emotional battle.
posted by tomswift at 6:37 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

You should talk to a lawyer just so you know your options.

Anyone telling you tosit tight and wait, or ask nicely, is for the birds because people are NUTZ over money and the only right way to handle this is professionally and have everything in writing. And I do mean EVERYTHING. For example, you say she has been paying taxes - are you sure of that. You need to confirm. And then get your agreement in writing.

Once you start asking to have the financial responsibilities of the house put into writing, maybe she'll decide it's just easier to re-mortgage and pay you out. If she balks at clarifying the relationship in writing, that would be the perfect time to say, "I understand clarifying everything is a hassle. How about you re-mortgage for x amount and buy me out?"

You will also need an honest market value appraisal done on the property. Maybe do 3 and you and she can then use the average (or whatever) to determine the likely sale price, and therefore your share?


And an above commenter is correct, as far as I know, that you can petition in court to force the sale of the property. I disagree thisis a slimey move. I think your sister sounds like the one taking advantage and you are THOROUGHLY in the right if you seek to enforce your rights.

Don't let her take advantage of you. Are you sure the value of the taxes she pays (and perhaps insurance and maintenance costs) is equal to 1/3 the amount she'd be paying on rent for that property?

Holy sh$t. The house is insured? Yes?? Please make sure the house is insured!

- See. That's the type of stuff a lawyer can advise you about. Insurance, how to split repair bills, how to encourage or force a sale, how to confirm tax info, what the financial contract should say if you decide to remain part owner, etc. etc, etc.

Go see a good lawyer. Get appraised of your rights so may proceed from a position of strength.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 6:42 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Before you do anything, you should be very, very clear on how far you're willing to take this. That is, are you willing to ruin your relationship with your sister to see this to the end and get your share? Are you willing to let it go if it means remaining cordial with her?

What Frowner says is correct: People get crazy about money and property after a death. I've seen some family relationships completely destroyed over these things. To push hard on this will bring a risk with it that you'll lose your sister. Is the money important enough to you to take that risk?

I am not saying that you shouldn't push at all, or shouldn't ask at all, but it's important to know where your own emotions stand with this stuff and to understand that hers may be a little bit more than looped right now, since you both just lost a parent. My advice would be to practice compassion, sit with this a little while, and then bring it up to her in January over coffee or something. Let her know it's important to you, without accusing or making her out to be a jerk. There are a lot of great suggestions here about how to handle the money itself, I think, but man, please do not go into this with an attitude of "she's screwing me over and I must stop this now!"
posted by hought20 at 6:43 PM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

+1 for having her come up with the money - just to get this mess behind you both. Though, remember, you'll be getting one third of todays market value ... not what the market might bring ten years from now when she sells the house she bought you out of and makes a good profit from.
posted by whatisish at 6:47 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mortgage, she pays you out, she decides what to do with the property after that. Otherwise you're right, this is unfair, and you may be entitled to a greater share of the property as time goes by to compensate for her enjoyment of it. But this is fact- and jurisdiction-dependent. See a lawyer.
posted by smorange at 6:52 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

My sister has the money to buy me out, but doen't feel comfortable handing over the cash because it will empty her savings account.

This bothers me. If doing $X requires emptying out your savings account, then no, you don't have the money to do $X. I agree that you should work out something (most people have already mentioned the options I'd suggest, such as her buying part of your share now and part at a later date to be agreed on and stuck with, or getting a mortgage and paying you out of that), because just sitting on it isn't a fair alternative either, but if the only option you've been talking about involves her going broke, then of course she'd be reticent.

Get a lawyer. Their jobs are working out solutions to problems like this.
posted by kagredon at 6:57 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Great advice. And yes, I am overly aware at how the money issue can ruin a relationship. I really believe I have been patient and understanding and have tried not to make waves because my life is good regardless.. She is the executor of the will and received a nice chunk of change from life insurance, so it's not like I would have taken her life savings for my 1/3 of the house.

I guess I'm just frustrated. A lot of people have asked is it worth the battle to lose the realtionship, but it seems to me she's doing the same thing by holding onto the house. It actually got to the point where she was going to mortage the place and pay me off, and then she would use the difference to buy another place, but it turned out the remaining money wouldn't be enough for the new purchase.

I think a part of me is venting. It's really not worth losing my sister over.
posted by TLCplz at 6:58 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's what I'd do if I were you. First, figure out how much the house is worth now (get an appraisal, if necessary). Then tell your sister that she has X months (whatever X you're comfortable with) to give you 1/3 of the value of the house. Whether she pulls it out of her savings, gets a mortgage, or sells the house is her business. Technically, she should also pay you some interest for keeping your money, but I'd let that go, in the interests of civility.

If she agrees to this plan, then you'll have some peace of mind--you'll know the most you'll have to wait. (If she then breaks her promise, then she'll definitely be the bad guy.) On the other hand, if she doesn't agree to this plan, regardless of the value of X, then your relationship is in deep trouble already...
posted by epimorph at 7:09 PM on December 12, 2011

Upon preview I think tomswift and hought20 provide excellent advice!

Right away you can see an attorney (or several for different perspectives) and get up to speed on your options and possible pitfalls. Then you take time to consider everything. In January you can sit down with your sister and explain how important it is to you. And if she completely balks, tell her your relationship with her means more to you than the house and that you will have an attorney sort out the ownership details with her, and you and she never have to speak directly on the matter again. A lot of families do this with inheritances, have third parties handle the negotiations, so that everything is done professionally and with as little emotional upset as possible. So when you tell her you are thinking about using an attorney to handle this it's not, "I'm suing you!" instead you are framing it as, "lots of families use lawyers to handle these sorts of issues, I value my relationship with you and I think we should get professional advice and assistance."

And for goodness sake, make sure the house is insured.

(Since she's been living there so long, there is another discussion to be had about major repairs, and major repairs that count as capital improvements - like roofing. I have no idea what condition this house is in, but I've worked for a remodeling firm and I've dealt with renovation and maintenance of rental units... There is a fair amount of upkeep and wear and tear involved. If your sister is the type to blow off small leaks and such, the repair bill down the road is larger and/or disrepair can negatively impact the sale price post-inspection. This alone is a solid Eason for you to want out of this financial entanglement with your sister.

I hope she is reasonable. Good luck.)

Oops. One more thought....

Sometimes I get really stroppy when someone suggests something I think is too complicated. Maybe your sister thinks selling the house, paying you out, or all the other details are too complicated and too much hassle - but in a very emotional way, so when she gets upset, she can't even characterize or explain her concern to herself, much less you.

What I'm trying to say is that some people explode when they feel overwhelmed.

This is another good reason to offer up the suggestion to her that you use professionals to cross the T's and dot the I's. Perhaps frame it specifically as being for her comfort?

Again. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:11 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I own a house with my sister because of this sort of thing. Has the estate closed yet? I only ask because what you should do is different in each situation: estate is closed house belongs to sister, estate is open, house belongs to "the estate" and you guys are talking things over. If the house is still "in the estate" then at the point in time that the estate closes you either need to be on the deed or you need 1/3 of the value of the house. That is what the will says, that is your sister's fiduciary responsibility. If this is not forthcoming then you need to set up an agreement as to when that will happen and it needs to be legal. If it's still open you're in a more grey area where your sister should be making plans to make this all work out, but legally doesn't have to give you your share of the inheritance. I know this is annoying as hell but I'd try to keep your wits about you while remembering that your sister has a legal obligation to you and the fact that this is inconvenient for her does not obviate her of that responsibility.
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

she was going to mortage the place and pay me off, and then she would use the difference to buy another place, but it turned out the remaining money wouldn't be enough for the new purchase.

See, that's pretty strange! The two transactions are not related. If she had a mortgage lined up for the inherited house, then she could have paid you with that money. What she did then -- stay in the house or move to a new home -- has no relationship with that mortgage.

I'm not sure what "the difference to buy another place" is about. Let's say the house is worth $1. She borrows .33 (not $1) from the bank and gives that money to you. There is no "difference" because she didn't sell the house to borrow the .33. Instead, she used the house as collateral on the loan.
posted by Houstonian at 7:16 PM on December 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think jbenben has it. You do the legwork (which...I know, but you have more to gain from her getting this dealt with than she does), explain to her how it works. Then leave it for 6-8 weeks, let it percolate, let her get over the initial anxiety, and then work on a plan to move forward.

A mortgage is generally how people handle this, whether it's joint inheritance or divorce or whatever. After all, she owns 2/3 of a house free and clear and has cash in the bank, so getting a mortgage should not be a huge deal, and her payments on that comparatively small mortgage are still going to be cheaper than rent.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:16 PM on December 12, 2011

I am not a lawyer.

I see three reasonably fair ways to go.

1. She buys you out.
2. She pays for all the taxes, utilities and keeps up regular maintenance which she pays for as well. This includes the expensive stuff like roofing.
3. She pays you 1/3 of the market rent on a house of that sort; you split the taxes and regular maintenance.

Note that in 2 and 3, you're essentially agreeing to let her choose when to sell the house.

Bringing all this up before the holidays is probably a bad idea. Speak to a lawyer, find out what the best legal options are, and decide yourself what is worth losing the relationship over -- remember that she's also being stubborn and a bit selfish about money, it's not just you deciding to be mean for no good reason. That doesn't mean you should absolutely hold your ground, just that this isn't all on you.

Once you know your options and you've decided how far you're willing to go, then you bring it up to her. I also think saying "let's just let lawyers handle this so we can have a sisterly relationship that's not all about real estate" can work, but she might be resentful that she has to pay a lawyer and then give you money.
posted by jeather at 7:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look, if this were a business situation, you would be getting reamed. You own part of the house and you have rights to it that exist independent of whether she feels like letting you exercise them or not. You say it's not worth losing your sister over this, but if I were in your shoes, as long as this went unaddressed I would be privately livid and publicly passive-aggressive about it to the point of completing poisoning the relationship. This is the kind of shit that leads to situations where somebody's kids in ten years are asking, "How come Aunt/Uncle TLCplz never comes for Christmas?" and nobody can really even remember why.

I think the healthy thing is to be assertive but approach her with the presumption that she is acting in good faith. Say, "Sis, this arrangement is unfair. You have a house and I have to rent. With every day that we are in this situation, you're building equity, I'm wasting rent money, and we are increasingly failing to honor Dad's wishes. Let's make a concrete plan for how we will resolve this."

Then you suggest that you get a lawyer involved to advise and draft an agreement containing the who, what, when, where, and how this will take place. Sell the property? She buys you out? Mortgage? On what date? In what amount? How will you determine the value? Be forthcoming about what you feel is fair and what is not. Demand that she do the same.

Though it might feel petty to be worried about money in the wake of your father's passing, the most toxic course of action is to do nothing. You can't avoid this situation forever, and the longer you do, the more you defer executing your dad's wishes. As long as this house situation hangs in the balance, neither of you will be able to move on fully with your lives.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:07 PM on December 12, 2011 [13 favorites]

First, you and your sister need to agree on a date certain that the house will go on the market, the minimum that you will accept for the house and what to do in the interim. If the house is paid for, then getting a mortgage for your 1/3 should be relatively easy. If your sister does not want to pay you off, then have her borrow the money so she still has cash in the bank. If it were me, I would set a date that the house goes on the market and a date when if it is not sold that they take out a mortgage and cash you out of part of your interest.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:18 PM on December 12, 2011

It actually got to the point where she was going to mortage the place and pay me off, and then she would use the difference to buy another place, but it turned out the remaining money wouldn't be enough for the new purchase.

I think this is the key to what it looks like from her end. To you the will is an occasion to move up and buy a house. For her, it's losing a nice house and moving down to something smaller. Not something she's going to be in a hurry about.

It's still an unfair situation for you, since you're owed an inheritance you're not benefitting from. And she should take steps to change that. But I think the above is why she's moving slowly.
posted by zompist at 8:23 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my grandmother died, she left her house to my mother and my aunt. The aunt lived in the house, while my mother lived across state, with no intention of returning home. My mother was very, very much in need of money, and repeatedly asked her sister to okay a sale of the house. My aunt refused for years, until the neighborhood went to hell, and the city fell apart. A house that was worth $80k in the mid 80s ended up being worth less than $10k in the mid-nineties, and finally had to be abandoned because it couldn't be sold, and had fallen into such disrepair.

Talk to your sister. Come to some sort of agreement, either by setting a deadline to sell the house, or a time by which she will buy out your share of the house. Make sure to get it done quickly, but be civil above all else. My mother still doesn't speak to her sister if she can avoid it.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:35 PM on December 12, 2011

Anyone who tells you to be passive because money ruins relationships is not taking into account that people often become very negative towards those they've taken advantage of. I've seen this again and again. Someone takes the lion's share of the inheritance (or whatever) and then turns the other person into the bad guy to mentally justify what they've done. Don't be so sure you'll save the relationship by just letting her have what she wants. Sure, let it go if that what you feel good about doing. But in that case, really let it go; don't let it fester and then eventually blow up at your sister.
posted by BibiRose at 8:49 PM on December 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

One more thing that I haven't seen mentioned by name-- is this property subject to the inheritance|death tax? You may have a tax burden this year that you'll need to pay by next April, (as would your sister, presumably). Such a thing could motivate her to sell the house sooner, but is also all the more reason for you to get it cashed in. Consult your lawyer/accountant natch, but property tax may not be the only thing you'll pouring into this inheritance.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:45 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen the suggestion above: why not move in with her until <whatever happens> next year?
posted by devnull at 11:10 PM on December 12, 2011

From personal experience, you will need to push the issue and the sooner the better. Yes, it may be awkward but you simply cannot let yourself get fobbed off, insist on a cler timetable
posted by moorooka at 3:58 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to say that this needs to be legally resolved, and ignoring it or thinking that you're the bad guy for forcing the issue is just about as far from a "dick-move" as can be.
posted by maxwelton at 4:20 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone who has been in this same position but with 1/2 and 1/2 a house . SHe HAS to give you the money or sell the house. It is UNFAIR to you to have to live somewhere else while she gets to have the WHOLE house.

By living in it she is keeping your 1/3 of the house.

It might be a bad thing to do but only you can look out for yourself. Get a lawyer and get your money.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:36 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you need to start charging rent for the 1/3 of the property you own...
posted by gjc at 6:52 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Interesting thread for people who write a will too. I concur with gjc here. You (can) have 4 different types of relationship with your sister:
A- familial
B- co owner of a property
C- co beneficiaries in a will
D- landlord - renter relationship
You are juggling these relationships, while if they would have been with 4 different people, NO juggling would have been necessary.

B will cost you money, you want to keep A intact, C you have no control over as she is the will's executor. Thus D remains. Yes, do get lawyer advice, but for now at least charge them rental fees. Of course this means you could have a hard time selling the house as it has now become a rental property.
posted by Eltulipan at 7:39 AM on December 13, 2011

You don't have a sense of urgency and your sister said she will put the house on the market next year. Talk with her now about how important this is to you and follow up with her next year. (This might be better for you if the real estate market is likely to be better then than it is now.)

It is UNFAIR to you to have to live somewhere else while she gets to have the WHOLE house.

That's the father's fault, not the sister's.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:41 AM on December 13, 2011

The problem is that your sister has a sweet deal living in the house so she has no reason to bust her butt to sell in a down market. I predict there will be a lot of "oh, the market is bad right now and nobody is buying" which drags on and on and on.

I think you're going to have to either live with it or insist on something like your sister paying you 1/3 of the rent on an equivalent house every month. Or you need to move in until it sells. Basically there needs to be some pressure to sell the house or I predict it'll never happen. At least not for a long time.
posted by Justinian at 12:14 PM on December 13, 2011

People have suggested some good financial advice, but the problem will be getting her to pay attention to any of it. She's got a sweet deal and is under to time pressure. You'll have to do all the pushing.... unless:

Offer that she live there 2 years, and you live there 1 year. That's so fair and so simple she can't refute it, and it puts the ball in her court to find a solution. The clock started when she moved in, so she'll have to move out soon unless she proposes a counter offer that you accept.
posted by at at 9:59 PM on December 13, 2011

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