How to manage inherited property split between siblings. This reader wants to either buy his sister out or sell the property, but she refuses.

Q: My boyfriend’s mother died several months back. He wants to either buy his sister out or sell the property, but his sister has refused his verbal requests to buy her out and things have gotten quite strained between them. It is their home and they both live there and now own the home jointly. 

It would seem to me that it would be best for them to go their own ways and sell the home. My boyfriend agrees with me on this, and if she won’t sell him her share, he wants to sell the property to someone else and move on. Unfortunately, his sister does not and her situation means she cannot afford the home on her own. 

His sister doesn’t have good enough credit to get a mortgage and can’t afford to live there on her own. Should we prepare a written legal offer she can reject (so we have formal documentation), and then file a partition lawsuit? Do you have any other suggestions?

How to Manage Inherited Property Split Between Siblings

A: Your boyfriend’s situation is quite delicate – and heartbreaking. And, we urge you to proceed with caution, because it might end badly for you.

On the one hand, your boyfriend and his sister may still be mourning the loss of their mother. His sister may have nowhere to go if she were to get kicked out of the home and she doesn’t appear to have the means to live in the home in her present situation. In short, her situation is quite precarious, financially and emotionally – something you don’t seem to appreciate.

In addition, his sister may have an emotional attachment to the home, especially if it was their family home, and there may be other emotional or psychological issues going on, of which you’re unaware. 

So, what do you do? You suggest offering her a deal, a deal you know she can’t accept. Then, you want to use this deal as evidence that you tried to make a deal so that you can go to court, and sue her to force the sale of the home. Yikes!

We’re fairly sure that’s not the best way to move things forward. In any case, your boyfriend is the one who should be leading the charge – not you. After all, he lives there and is the co-owner.

Learn More About the Home and Discuss Options

So, let’s think about how he might want to handle the situation. First, he should try to find out what the home is worth, what is owed on the mortgage (if his mother had one) and how much he and his sister could net out if they sold the home. He should present her with this information and talk about their options.

With any luck, there will be enough cash that comes from the sale to allow his sister to move on, find another home to live in and leave her with some money in the bank to give her a bit of security. While your boyfriend may be secure emotionally and financially, it sounds like his sister needs more help. And, it probably doesn’t help her feelings of insecurity and grief to know you’re pushing to get her out of her home.

Unless your boyfriend addresses this situation and reaches out to his sister, it will be hard for them to make peace and move forward.

What About Filling a Partition Suit?

Let’s address the partition suit. A partition suit is a legal action taken by one owner against another. The partition suit would give one owner the right to sell his or her share of the property or force one owner to buy out the other. Sam has seen co-owners take this action in the past and you should be aware that the suit can cost a considerable amount of money and could take quite a long time to come to fruition. 

We’d prefer to see if your boyfriend and his sister can sit down and talk about selling the home, even if they need a third party, like an attorney or even a therapist, to help facilitate the discussion. Your boyfriend can go down the litigation route but he risks totally alienating his sister and spending a chunk of whatever cash he might get from the property. 

When a grieving family sells their family home, everyone is on equal footing. Ideally, your boyfriend and his sister would both sell the home and would then equally share in the proceeds from the sale. 

If they take care to do this slowly, thoughtfully and amicably, they might not only sell the home but start to repair their relationship. 

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