My mom, brother and I bought a single-family house for $60,000 in 1979. Mom put down $20,000 and paid 22% of the mortgage. My brother paid 45% of the mortgage and I paid 33%. We paid it off in 1988. I married and moved out in 1992, but paid the monthly maintenance until 1994. That year, my brother, his wife and daughter moved in. A year later, he had a son.
In 2016, after a health scare my mom changed the deed from joint tenant to life estate. She passed away this year. During the 26 years that my mom, my brother and his family lived there, I contributed 33% of house maintenance (new windows, roof, boiler, oil tank, garage door, electrical panel, and painting, concrete fixes etc. as well as house insurance).
I did not contribute to real estate taxes, in lieu of not living there. When my mom died without a will, my brother figured out that mom’s part of the house if distributed by half, he would end up with 54% and I with 46% of the value of the house, which is obviously worth several multiples of what we paid for it. His math seems correct, and I was happy to agree to that.
I just heard that my sister-in- law and her 2 children feel that I have “played” my brother and that it seems “fishy” that I didn’t push to sell the house long ago. I never thought that it was my place to ask my mom or brother to sell the house. I thought they would just tell me. During these years my brother started his own business, and subsequently went bankrupt and had difficulty finding a job.
May I please have your thoughts on this situation? And do you think the division of the house is fair? I want to keep the peace.
Trying to Do the Right Thing
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Your brother and his wife moved into your mother’s home. His children grew up there. It was their home, at least it felt like their home. However, they were living in a property owned by you, your brother and your late mother. When they say it’s “fishy” that you didn’t sell the house long ago, what they really mean is they’re annoyed that they did not buy you out of the house a long time ago, before it increased in multiples of its original value.
They could have owned all of it for a fraction of the price, and they should have thought of that then, and they would have done so had they realized they’d be in a position to own all of the home instead of just over 50%. It’s a classic case of woulda-shoulda-coulda. Who are they going to hold accountable for their own lack of foresight and inaction? Themselves? Not on your nelly. Why on earth would they do something as obvious as that when they can blame you instead?
If you sign over this house now to keep the peace and/or to secure the friendship and love and loyalty of your brother and his family, you will only end up resenting them and resenting yourself. It won’t change who they are, and they will likely find another reason to hold other people responsible for decisions they did or did not take in their own lives. You can’t solve that problem by signing over your inheritance to your brother and his family. So don’t try.
You upheld your end of the agreement. They probably saved far more money by living there without having to pay a full mortgage/rent. Your brother calculated how much you both contributed, and he came up with 54/46 split. Ignore any reported comments from your in-laws, and tell whoever told you those comments that you’d rather here from them directly or not at all. If they express this to you directly, tell them what I told you: “Take responsibility for your own actions.”
Your sister-in-law should be happy that you don’t insist on that other 4%.
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