Can my mom receive back rent for an apartment and storefront she didn't know she owned?
December 29, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

My aunt lied about my grandfather's will decades ago. Can my mom receive back rent for an apartment and storefront she didn't know she owned?

In 1971, my grandfather passed away, leaving behind a building his father had built. The building had a storefront and a 2nd floor apartment. My aunt took care of his affairs, and claimed that he had left the building to her. By the 1980s, the street that the building is on became a popular upscale shopping destination, housing a well-known business. A couple years ago, my mom unexpectedly received a call from the building's next-door neighbors. They were applying for a permit to do some work on their building, and went down to city hall and learned that their property was overlapping six inches onto my aunt's property, meaning that they would have to ask her permission before doing the remodeling. So why did they call my mom? It turns out that her name is also on the deed. All this time, she has been the co-owner of the building.

Finding this out made a lot of things make more sense. My aunt started to act inexplicably disdainfully towards my mom around that time, and since then has been a thorn in her side for a long time. The possibility that she might feel guilty about pulling this over on my mom could explain her behavior through the years.

My mom is doing her best just to steer clear of my aunt, and isn't excited about fighting her on this. But if she were to take action—and I know mefi isn't a place for official legal advice—would she have a case for back rent, or has some sort of statute of limitations passed? Also, if my mom decides to be non-confrontational and waits until (if) my aunt dies first, would she still have a case against her estate? This takes place in Minnesota, U.S..
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Absolutely. Sounds like an open and shut case. Get a lawyer, try for a settlement, if not, sue. Your mother may end up sole owner, due to the amount of back rent she's probably owed.
posted by electroboy at 12:48 PM on December 29, 2006


There is only one ethical answer you will get here, and that is that your mom should see a lawyer.
posted by norm at 12:49 PM on December 29, 2006


Also, the statute of limitations shouldn't affect your mother's ability to reclaim property that is rightfully hers.
posted by electroboy at 12:51 PM on December 29, 2006


I think your mom needs a lawyer now. I have no idea what the statute of limitations would be, but the fact of the matter is that discovery (finding out there is a problem) probably resets the clock. Do not wait, as the clock is ticking. (Well you'll have to wait till Tuesday if not Wednesday anyway, but you know what I mean). If aunt dies, then you will have the aunt's heirs to content with and a precedent that mom knew in 2006 and did nothing about it. Oh, and you might to do some research. Title search kind of stuff. Like how it ended up in her name without her signature. She will also want to look into who exactly has been paying the property taxes since 1972. Strictly speaking, if the property belongs to mom, she is liable. I'd hate for family property to end up on the auction block over a fit of pique.

Frankly the reason to clear this up NOW is all liability. What if somebody is injured on the property? Guess who the lawyers are going to serve with papers? Mom.
posted by ilsa at 12:57 PM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


I wonder if adverse possesion would come into play somehow- since the aunt paid the taxes for all these years.

also, is there a written will? if so, how come your mom never saw it?

good luck!
posted by Izzmeister at 1:05 PM on December 29, 2006


does your mom really needs the money?

if she does, OK, go ahead.

if she doesn't, tell her to move on: suing one's own sister is just bad, even if your mom is right and her sister did a very bad thing. her sister stole from her, this is bad enough. unless she needs the money, a bitter lawsuit will only increase the bitterness. your aunt will have to live with her conscience. or, even worse, with her lack of conscience -- her lack of humanity. I cannot think of a worse punishment anyway.
posted by matteo at 1:08 PM on December 29, 2006


You really want to do something about this before the aunt dies; because she's the one who (presumably, allegedly) misrepresented the will, it's going to be easier to deal with her directly than to wait until she dies and then have to deal with her heirs. Plus, while I don't know specifically about probate law in Minnesota, there may be a time-limit once you've discovered what happened.

Your grandfather meant for the property, it sounds like, to go to both your aunt and your mother. She should do what it takes to get what's rightfully hers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:37 PM on December 29, 2006


Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. There's all sorts of things here that you want a lawyer to look over. I would personally go for a really good one, you don't want some weird liability surprising you.
posted by geoff. at 1:38 PM on December 29, 2006


There are times that Ask MeFi really does a disservice to the community, and that's when it ventures into the realm of advice that usually requires a high degree of professional expertise, such as complicated medical diagnoses or situations like the above.

I don't mean to criticize you for actually asking the question, but the only responsible answer is: "Unless someone here is an attorney who practices in New York real estate law and is willing to give you a free legal opinion, then you need to seek the professional opinion of legal counsel who knows precisely what he or she is talking about."
posted by WCityMike at 2:34 PM on December 29, 2006


Second WCityMike. This is the kind of thing you really need a trained professional for. This is the kind of thing you could step in all sorts of unforeseen complications, and yeah, I'd guess you want to clear this up before the aunt passes, as it seems like it could get a lot more complicated if you had to stasrt dealing with her heirs or estate. Which I mention only to encourage you to seek professional guidance as soon as possible.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 2:51 PM on December 29, 2006


Keep in mind that you can consult a lawyer to:

(a) research whether the property really was willed to her (maybe the neighbors misread the records they saw, or maybe the records have an error that needs to be corrected)

(b) determine what rights she has claim to, and how long she has left to exercise those rights if she chooses (statues of limitations)

(c) advise her of pros and cons of the various options available, including this "non-confrontational" strategy of hers

But if the lawyer turns up something (from the limited facts you've described, it's premature to conclude that your aunt has been lying all these years -- and wouldn't you feel horrible if for instance it turned out your mom had just forgotten that her sister bought out her share?), having the lawyer turn around and sue her sister isn't necessarily in your mom's best interests. Moreover, the fact that she's taken no action since learning of this a few years ago, and is avoiding "confrontation", suggests that she's had time to reflect on a course of action and feels strongly that other considerations outweigh whatever money she might be due.

Considering the devastating effect a lawsuit could have on family members' relationships as they feel compelled to pick sides, a lawsuit should be the last option on your mind. First clarify for sure (not just on anecedotal and circumstantial evidence) that your mom has been wronged. Then make doubly sure that the wrong, if done, was done by her sister -- and knowingly (for all you know, a 3rd party has pulled something over on them both). Then after all the facts are in, hopefully it'll provide a basis for two of them to either work out an appropriate resolution directly, or do so with the assistance of a professional mediator.

For some people, "fair" resolution to a personal betrayal of trust can't be fixed by mere money. For instance, if she wants her sister's apology, or public recognition that their father loved them equally, no lawsuit will ever give her what she needs. However, court costs and lawyer fees will ensure that your grandfather's estate is bled dry and his descendants left with bitter divisions. Whereas a mediator tries to find enough common ground for both parties to walk away feeling like a reasonable -- if not necessarily ideal -- conclusion has been reached. In other words, what a mediator offers is the possibility of achieving closure.

With any luck, this difficult situation can be resolved without going to court. Because it sure won't feel resolved after your family's been through the courts, no matter which sister ultimately "wins".
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:08 PM on December 29, 2006


You are getting some good advice here, anonymous.

It seems to cluster around getting professional, local, legal advice for the most part.

I'd like to add my two cents worth... it's important to resolve this in THIS generation. Once someone "passes on" in this situation, the problem gets even more complex. I think there are ways to resolve things like this besides lawsuits, but getting reliable information on what the options are has to take priority over saber-rattling and posturing. Nothing substitutes for knowledge and certainty, and a clear understanding of all the potential alternatives is the best tool for successful negotiation.

Any lawyer on the planet will tell you scores of 'wills and estates' war stories, and yours sounds like one for the books! Take the predominant advice here and get a lawyer for your mom, even if you have to pay for it. In a very real sense, it is your problem, too. Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 3:32 PM on December 29, 2006


Of course legal advice is necessary, and the laws vary from state to state.

But the following can be provided as guidance.

Every state has some kind of limitations period, so that a claim could not stretch back to 1971. In my state, the claim would go back no further than 6 years.

Adverse possession is another wrinkle. This means that someone who is in possession of land in a fashion that is open and notorious for the specified period of time (15 years in my state) becomes the owner. BUT one joint owner cannot be adverse to another joint owner, since each has an indivisible right to use and occupy the land. This is the primary reason that your mother should not simply allow things to sit now. If she was not properly charge with knowledge of her rights back then, she sure is now.

When a will is probated, the beneficiaries who are identified and the members of the decedent's family have to be notified. It is likely that your mother was notified and that she did not act to protect her rights. But her name did get on the deed, so her rights were recognized to that extent.

Even if she has a right to claim her share of profits for a specified period of time into the past, she can elect at any time not to do so. She would not be entitled to rent, but rather a share of the profits from having leased the premises. Often those profits are fairly small; not every landlord is a land baron. She could rationally decide to have things set right now, but not to purse any monetary claim for past acts.

Those are some thoughts. Get her to a lawyer ASAP. If she does not want to do so, do it yourself. And contrary to your fears, it may not cost all that much to get some qualified advice (as opposed to just guidance from an unknown lawyer on the internets).
posted by yclipse at 6:17 PM on December 29, 2006


And one other thought: lawyers are /tools/.

Their job is to investigate, advise, and then /do what you tell them to/.

Some lawyers... and some clients... forget that last bit.
posted by baylink at 8:42 PM on December 29, 2006


Also, the statute of limitations shouldn't affect your mother's ability to reclaim property that is rightfully hers.

Where on Earth do you get that idea? It happens pretty frequently. As mentioned above, there is a process called adverse possession in which the statute of limitations affects someone's ability to reclaim property that is "rightfully" his/hers. There are elements that vary by jurisdiction, so make sure your lawyer explains them to you.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:46 PM on December 29, 2006


OK ... I am a laywer ... and your mom certainly needs one ... now! Do not pass go, Do not collect $200.
posted by jannw at 6:47 AM on December 30, 2006


These guys above are giving you good advice. Get a lawyer soon, preferably a property lawyer. Funny this came up, my wife and I are in the process of deeding back some property that her dad (still living) gave us, Why? Cause the family feud erupting over it just isn't worth it.
posted by BillsR100 at 7:29 AM on December 30, 2006


Anonymous, please email Jessamyn or Matt with a followup for MetaTalk. I'd love to know what happens.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:40 AM on December 30, 2006


http://www.mnfindalawyer.com/

Use the link above to connect to a referral service to find a lawyer in the specific area of the law that you need. Play hardball. Auntie should be ashamed of herself and with decades of deception on her part, it is time for her to face the severe consequences of her actions. A good lawyer will be able to either craft an agreement/settlement out of court, or can advise on how to prosecute Auntie in court for possible criminal or civil law violations.

Unless by some off chance there really was some fundamental misunderstanding of the execution of Grandfather's estate all those years ago, show no mercy in rectifying the actions of a greedy and deceptive individual. It's not about money, it's about integrity and the principle of not screwing over family members.
posted by kuppajava at 9:23 AM on January 2, 2007


I wonder if adverse possesion would come into play somehow- since the aunt paid the taxes for all these years.

Adverse possession is that said possession must be open and hostile. You would not meet the test if you snuck in and out of a house for 20 years (assuming you're in a 20 year state) without anyone ever knowing you were there. I similarly doubt you could claim success if you concealed from the owner the fact that they owned it.

Your mother certainly should get this resolved one way or another for the above liability reasons, if no other. However you personally should accept that maybe she's not interested in any outcome other than a minimum of confrontation with her sister. Families are weird, and while you might want her to come out with guns blazing and take what she's owed, she may just want to maintain what minimal cordial relationship she can with this woman.

As mentioned above, lawyers are tools - they will tell you what you CAN do but not what you WANT to do. And she should consult one and you should support her in her decision, no matter how hare-brained it might seem to you or us.
posted by phearlez at 10:50 AM on January 2, 2007


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