Helping Aging Parents Results In Financial Problems After Death

Q: My mother passed away a couple years ago. Thirteen years prior to her death, she gave her house to me and my husband. In return, we paid the taxes and insurance on the house on a yearly basis and paid some of my mother’s other expenses, including her utilities, prescription drugs, and other expenses off and on through the years when money got tight for her.

To make a long story short, I have other siblings and didn’t feel right just taking the house after she passed away. I told my mother that we would keep track of the expenses we paid and deduct it from the sale of the house after she died.

She said we didn’t have to do that, but I told her how we felt about just taking the house. Anyway, my husband and I decided to keep the house. So, we had the house appraised and deducted our expenses for the 15 years from that appraised amount and then divided the remaining amount by 4 (the number of surviving children) and sent a check to each sibling for that amount.

I have one sibling who is asking for more money, saying we did not take into account the assistance they provided to my parents while living at home. The assistance was in the form of time and labor while my sibling lived there as a teenager and young adult.

This sibling has not cashed the check we sent nearly two months ago. My husband and I plan to remodel the house and rent it out. Are there any legal issues we should be concerned with?

A: If the house is in your name and your mother’s estate has been closed, there might not be an opportunity for your sibling to contest the issue. But you might need to consult with an attorney on your issues. (That said, anyone can sue anyone for any reason.)

Still, it seems that you have tried to be fair. However, once you decided that you would take money (or in this case, the value of the property) in exchange for providing financial assistance to your mother, you might have opened up the door for your siblings to make the same offer.

But that’s in the past. The one question that’s sort of interesting is if you factored in time and labor into your computations or if you only factored in cash out-of-pocket. If your sibling stayed home to care for your mother, that might be worth something. If all we’re talking about is keeping a bedroom clean and washing some clothes, not so much.

I’m fairly certain that you and your other siblings helped out your parents over the years by changing light bulbs, carrying out the trash, and perhaps mowing the yard. That’s what families do for each other. Did your parents charge your wayward sibling rent while that sibling lived in the house? Probably not.

You should tell your wayward sibling that there is no more money coming and if she doesn’t cash the check before it expires in 90 days then you’re not going to issue another one. You can add that you feel your offer is fair and didn’t have to be made and that he or she should accept it.

But be prepared for your relationship to take a turn for the worse. Your sibling believes he or she is entitled to more and once you put money into a relationship, it can easily sour.

Please talk to a real estate attorney for more details.