If the love of money is the root of all evil, then having to share your right to it with others, even siblings, can create problems. Often, by the time a parent dies, siblings are adults with their own needs, concerns and interests. When they inherit a house together, those interests often conflict. Some may need the cash from a sale, while others are sentimental about keeping the property. Fortunately, a few creative solutions exist.
Who Gets to Live in the Home?
If three siblings inherit a house, each has a one third interest in the home, but all have the right to use and enjoyment of the whole house. Unless the will specifies that only one has the right to live in the home, all three would have to share the residence if they wanted to live there. If one sibling has a stronger emotional attachment to the house, he can buy out the others' interests, if they’re willing to sale their interest. The property would need to be appraised to determine its current market value; then a mortgage for two-thirds of that value would need to be secured to pay off the other siblings. Alternatively, if the parent’s estate includes more than just the house, the sibling wanting to live in the home could relinquish his right to other assets equal in value to his share of the home’s worth. An attorney can review the assets involved in the estate and determine if this is feasible. If two siblings want to hold on to the investment while the other lives in the home, a written agreement outlining the terms of the arrangement should be considered.
Can I Be Forced to Sell?
If you inherit a house and your siblings are adamant about selling because they want to take their cash out of the property immediately, they might be able force you to sell the property. A partition action could be filed, forcing all interested parties to sell the property and split the proceeds in accordance with the court's requirements. The sale may be a public auction or it might occur through a private real estate listing. In either case, there is usually nothing stopping you from being the highest bidder or making an offer on the home. An attorney can tell you if your state court will allow this option.
What If I Want to Sell?
Forcing a partition sale on your siblings can cause very hard feelings and the emotional damage may be difficult to repair. If you are the sibling who is determined to sell, you can let the others buy you out. If they don’t have the money and can’t qualify for a mortgage, you could act as the financer, taking monthly payments from the remaining siblings in place of traditional mortgage payments made to a bank. You can take a promissory note or lien against the property from your siblings, and they can make monthly mortgage payments to you toward your share of the property. This wouldn’t be the same windfall as you’d receive if you sold the property outright, but it might preserve family relations. In any case, parties often fare better when they resolve their issues without resorting to use of the court system. An attorney can advise you of your rights in such a situation and how to protect yourself if your siblings default.
Must the Court Be Involved?
Courts usually don't restrict beneficiaries from negotiating mutually agreeable inheritance terms between themselves. After probate has closed, you can do anything you like with the property. However, if the estate involves more than the house, and depending on the nature of deed, probate will probably be necessary. If the deed does not automatically transfer the house to you and your siblings at the owner's death, an attorney can guide you through the probate process.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.