My mother passed away three years ago and left the house to my brother, my sister and me. What little was left in her bank account was distributed among the three of us.
Our brother is still living in the family home. He pays the taxes, insurance and utilities to live there. The house was to be split three ways among us.
If he wants to continue living in the house, my feeling is he needs to get a loan on a fair appraisal for the house, and buy both my sister and me out.
At what point do I bring this up? He claims it’s his home, as he lives there, and we need to give notice when we go there to visit.
The house is in Florida, and right now the market is up. He has no plans to leave the house. What legal recourse do we have? He was the executor of the will.
Thank you in advance for your time.
Good Grief, Get Out
Dear Good Grief,
The longer your brother is allowed to live there while insisting that this house now belongs to him, the harder it will be to have the conversation. He is taking care of the house and paying for its upkeep, so there’s no point in bursting through the doors — with or without a pitchfork.
Trespassing and possession laws vary from state to state. You and your sister are listed on the deed, so you are legal co-owners of this house, and you don’t have a landlord/tenant contract with your brother. Tread carefully, and with the advice of a lawyer.
Legally, if you are co-owners, you should have the right to live there and/or sell the property. It seems like you are interested not in the former, but the latter. You know what you want, so I suggest you both visit him ASAP and tell him, “We need to talk about the house.”
If he refuses to cooperate within an agreed-upon timeframe, an attorney could issue a partition action for the probate court to force the sale of your mother’s property. The property taxes, in the meantime, should be paid from your mother’s estate and/or by all three siblings.
In Florida, “when two or more beneficiaries are entitled to distribution of undivided interests in any property, the personal representative or any beneficiary may petition the court before the estate is closed to partition the property,” the state’s probate law says.
If you allow him to pay for the taxes and upkeep, you are making it trickier for yourself when the time comes to split the proceeds of the estate. That arrangement also potentially creates more ill will and confusion among the siblings over who should pay for what.
Taking legal action can be costly and time consuming. It could permanently end your relationship with your brother, and make any sale challenging, if he is still there and attempts to deny access. You must all ask yourself as a family whether it’s worth it.
The threat of legal action is a powerful tool, and can be used as a last resort. You want this house sold and the profit divided among all three siblings equally. That’s what your mother wanted, that’s what it says on the deed, and any court in the land would back you up on that.
You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.
Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.
The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.
More from Quentin Fottrell: