Q: Forty years ago, my parents were given land from my mother’s cousin on which to build a summer home for their children, including me, my sister, and my brother.
My parents told everyone for thirty plus years that this property was to be left to all of us. My brother moved to Florida twenty years ago and does not visit often. Actually, he has been in Connecticut only six times since his move to Florida.
I have been staying at or visiting the summer home continually since 1968. My sister and her husband and two daughters visit as frequently.
Although I was not able to perform any of the regular maintenance on the exterior of the house, my sister and I took care of the interior as necessary. My parents paid for, and were responsible for, the house and never asked any of us for money.
Here’s my problem: without my brother or my knowledge, two years ago my parents surreptitiously sold the house to my sister for approximately $19,000.The house is appraised at approximately $485,000. It is a year round residence with five bedrooms and two full baths.
I do not believe that this is a legal transfer and would like to know what my legal rights are.
A: Why wouldn’t this be a legal transfer? Certainly, you can consult with an attorney on this issue, but if your parents own the property and pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the property, they are well within their rights to sell it to whomever they want, and for whatever price. If you feel you have been untreated fairly, you should talk to your parents — not sue them in a court of law.
Just because your parents said they’d leave the house to all of their children equally doesn’t mean they have to do that.
While your parents told you that they intended to give the house equally to all of you sometime in the future, they probably have the right to change their mind and sell the home to your sister. Since you didn’t mention if your parents are unable to take care of their financial affairs, as adults they have the right to take care of their financial assets.
I’d open up the conversation with your parents about what happened and find out what they were thinking. Perhaps they are planning to leave you and your brother excluded from this windfall other assets to make up the difference in the value of the property.
In any case, your next move is to call your folks and have an open and honest discussion about what has happened and why they chose to keep it secret. If you don’t ask, it will seriously taint your relationship with them — and your sister.