Q: My friend and I own a home together as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. If he should die before me, I realize the home becomes mine. But what happens to the interior furnishings? Do his three children have a right to come and remove their father’s half of the furniture?
A: The furniture is not part of the house. It is considered to be the home’s “contents” or “personal property” (as opposed to real property, which is the property). His children would be entitled to remove their father’s furniture and any other belongings stored in the house if he left it to them in his will.
Personal property gets distributed to heirs in the manner provided by state law or as designated by a will. If your friend has a will, he can designate what items of personal property will be yours and what items of personal property will go to his children. If there is no will, state law may provide that all of his personal property goes to his kids in which case you would be out of luck.
While not legally binding, your friend can also write a letter to his children asking them to respect his wishes and allow you to keep certain items. In the case of sentimental items, that same letter may ask you to return certain items when you move from the home, when you no longer need them or upon your death.
If you’d want to keep the furniture, you and your friend could write out an agreement that allows you to either keep the furniture outright or buy his share in the furnishings from his children. If you and your friend don’t have a written agreement when he dies, you can ask your friend’s children to allow you to make them an offer to keep certain pieces. But if anything seems valuable or memorable to them, be prepared for them to turn you down.
There are quite a number of ways to handle your situation, but only a properly drafted will can achieve your friend’s and your wishes.
Follow-up: I heard back from the writer who said that she was going to have her friend write and execute a will that would give her the first right of refusal over the furniture.
March 13, 2009
My Grandfather has just passed away, he left the house to his only daughter, can the grandkids have anything of the contents
If your grandfather left his house to his only daughter, then she owns the property and contents. I assume that she is your mother, and so you should ask her if you can have a keepsake or two from the house to remind you of your grandfather. If you are the child of another child of your grandfather’s, then you should go to your aunt and make the same request.
Either way, your mother/aunt can deny your request as she now owns all of the property (the physical house, land, and its contents). But, I hope she’ll agree that it would be nice for you to have something.
Ilyce Glink, Publisher
My mother recently passed away. Prior to her death she deeded her property to a grandson with her having a life estate. However her will leaves her personal property to her children. The grandson is refusing to let anyone take any of her personal property from the house. He says he does not have to because the house is now his. Is this correct or do the children have a right to her personal property per the will?
The question is whether his ownership of the property overrules her will regarding distribution of her personal property. I’m not an attorney, but it’s likely that his ownership of the property and its contents will triumph because he received ownership of the property prior to her death. He could claim that whatever the house included (i.e. the personal property) became his.
What’s so awful about this is that it has the potential to really disrupt the entire family. I’m not sure what personal effects you’d want to have from your mother, but certainly handing over family photos and objects that represent your life together aren’t an unreasonable request.
If you want to pursue this, you should try to work with your sibling (the grandson’s mother or father) to resolve the situation before it tears apart the whole family. But for additional guidance, please consult with an estate attorney.
Ilyce Glink, Publisher