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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Perils of Family Property

Slate’s advice columnist, “Prudence,” recently answered a question from someone who was dealing with a bunch of relatives who were upset about the decision to sell off a “family” property. Prudie’s answer is a good one from a moral perspective, but will it hold up in court?

The Question

The person writing in was dealing with family strife over a vacation property. Years ago, a set of siblings, including the letter writer, inherited a lake house. Twenty years ago, the letter writer and her husband bought out the other family members and assumed sole ownership of the property. They still let other family members visit whenever they wanted, but nobody had visited the past three years, and upkeep on the property was getting to be too much. So, the letter writer decided to sell the property.

The rest of the family flipped out. “I had a niece calling us crying about wanting her wedding to be there. (She is not engaged.) One sister accused us of insulting our dead parents’ memory and took up a collection to buy back the property from us: It is $10,000 less than what we paid them over 20 years ago.”

The letter writer wanted to know whether she should cave to her family’s guilt trip, or go ahead with plans to sell the property.

Prudie’s Answer

Prudence told the letter writer to sell and not feel bad about it. This may be the best solution, but will it cause legal trouble? Thankfully the answer is probably not. The other family members could try and sue, but if they can fine an attorney to take the case, under these facts the lawsuit would be quickly dismissed.

Once a property owner sells a property, even one they remain emotionally invested in, they lose control over what happens to that property. Unless there are deed restrictions or some sort of family trust in play that the letter writer neglected to mention, the family members who are not owners have no legal right to tell the family members who are owners what to do with the property.

Our firm advises a lot of families who are dealing with similar issues. We have helped families consolidate ownership of properties, sell off properties, and put properties in trust so that many family members can continue to enjoy them for generations to come. A trust is often the best solution for managing a property that many people care about, but few people want to take responsibility for.

 


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