Q: My mom sold her house, then formally gifted $150,000 of the net proceeds to my sister to purchase a house.

My sister bought the house, put down $135,000 of the $150,000 in cash, but did not put Mom’s name on the title.

The verbal agreement they had was that Mom would be taken care for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, my sister immediately began charging my Mom $1,000 per month to live in the property. Mom moved out, demanded her money back, and told my sister to sell the house.

Does Mom have any chance in getting her money back? She is now just living on Social Security and has no financial independence.

A: Your mother has made several expensive mistakes: She didn’t get anything in writing. She didn’t put her name on the title to the house. There doesn’t appear to be any proof of the “verbal” agreement between your mother and sister.

You wrote in your email that she “formally gifted” the cash to your sister. If she has copies of the checks that she used to “gift” the money to your sister, then in a court of law, she may be able to prove that your sister didn’t hold up her end of the deal.

She should talk to a real estate attorney with experience in litigation to help gauge the possibility of a successful outcome should she decide to sue your sister. But the attorney will want cash upfront cash your mother doesn’t have.

Still, a good attorney shouldn’t charge for the initial visit, so you and your mother can see whether it is worth pursuing.

The worst part about this scenario isn’t the money – although that’s not insignificant. It’s the fact that your family unity has been destroyed by your sister’s behavior. It’s unfortunate that your sister has chosen to behave dishonorably and worse that your mother didn’t know she couldn’t trust her daughter.

I hope this helps. Good luck.