Laughing Heirs

Q: Considering that I am solely responsible for the original mortgage for which I am still paying, how can I resolve my mother’s 50% ownership which intended to be mine upon her death?

When my mother and I purchased a home together she was concerned for my future and wellbeing. My two older brothers and sister already had homes of their own. Mother and I were unaware that one day the requirement of probate would severely impact the one of us that outlived the other. Our deed was neither a life estate nor a right of survivorship deed and neither of us had a last will. It was a simple warranty deed naming each of us as tenants in common. After my mother’s death I tried to sell the home and learned that I must open probate to transfer ownership of my mother’s half interest in our home and that her interest must be shared among my one brother still living, and the four children of my two deceased siblings.

My brother has agreed to forfeit his interest in my home, but disappointingly, this is not the case with my nephews and nieces. When they first learned that they had an interest in what I believed to be solely my home, the four of them immediately established a greed mentality focused only on how much each of their share would be upon selling my home. I barely know these nieces and nephews. Furthermore, because they have a financial interest, two of them contacted attorneys to determine if they can force me to sell by means of a partitioning action against me. Fortunately, the homestead laws of Florida protect my home so I cannot be forced to sell.

A: In answer to your question, you are in a compromising position and are experiencing what the law refers to as “laughing heirs’ inheritance whereby heirs may have no personal connection or feel bereaved over the loss of the deceased, but they are still entitled to an inheritance. Faced with this circumstance, you need to overcome your emotion and accept the responsibility of sharing the inheritance and discussing alternatives with the other heirs. They are not your enemies and rather than treat them as such, embrace them as your friends and partners to settle the estate amiably. Initially ask for the other heirs help with inheritance decisions. Keep the decisions simple and express gratitude for others’ contributions to a favorable agreement. Examples of such agreements may include (1) selling the house and equally dividing your mother’s portion with the other heirs; (2) buying out the other heirs’ interests in the house based on a mutually agreeable and fair value; and (3) enter into an agreement for you to remain in the house for your lifetime and transfer its entirety to the other heirs at your death.  

Before initiating an inheritance war and causing emotional harm to family members or other beneficiaries, consult with a probate attorney.

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Written by Kristen Jackson

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