By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
In September, our mom died without a will in Chatham County, Ga. I do not want to own her house and five acres in the country in Savannah, but my two siblings refuse to sell it and split the estate. I live in Indiana.
My brother threatened to “ruin me” when I told him that he and our sister could either buy the property or it would be sold. He is carrying on about how his kids were raised there by our mother, although she did not legally adopt them.
He is blind and likes to winter in the house rather than stay in his own apartment. He lives in a major metropolitan area where he has to navigate public transport. He is living there now without a lease or even his name on the deed.
My sister also does not want to sell the property because it has been in the family for 90 years.
‘My brother is blind and likes to winter in the house rather than stay in his own apartment.’
I filed to be named personal representative with a Savannah firm. My mom’s car is in the garage on the property unless my siblings sold it or gave it away. They stayed at the house during the funeral, and I did not attend. Who knows what they have done with her paperwork.
All communication has stopped between us due to their screaming at me down the phone.
Is there anything more that I can do to protect the estate as I wait for the probate court to serve my siblings, and name one of us as administrator?
I contacted my mom’s bank to let them know about the situation. I told her insurance companies, too. I canceled cable TV, and my brother threatened to sue me for harassment, although he is capable of putting this bill into his name.
I appreciate any help you can give me. The paralegal said the more questions I ask, the higher my bill.
Waiting for My and Their Next Move
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You can take a partition action to force your siblings to sell their share. The court will agree if there is a strong reason to sell. In reality, it would be difficult to prevent such an action, but not impossible. This could be an expensive and bitter legal challenge. If you’re worried about your bill going up because of questions you ask your paralegal, wait until you get into court.
It’s obviously unfortunate that your mother did not leave a will. She may have chosen to put this family property in a trust and/or she could have left it to your siblings, assuming she was aware that you wanted to sell it. Was she aware? How would she feel about selling this family property that has been in the family for almost a century two months after her death?
Two people want to keep this house in the family and for their use. Plus, your brother clearly enjoys spending time there away from the city. I suggest you take all of this into account when making your decision. Your letter says a lot about what you want, but there are three people in this financial arrangement, and you are changing the status quo by insisting on selling up.
I don’t know why you did not attend your mother’s funeral. Perhaps it was due to the animosity between you, and your brother and sister, or maybe your relationship with your mother was fractured, too. Grief can rattle people to their core, and unearth long-buried feelings of hurt and resentment, and make us act in ways that we would regret afterwards. Or maybe the pandemic made travel to Georgia impractical.
‘It’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us. The real test comes when we are magnanimous to those who we believe have done us wrong.’
So I urge you to think of the importance of this property in your family’s history, and how it could be enjoyed by future generations. You could agree to sell a part of the land, for example, and your siblings could then use their share to pay you off for the house. Selling this house against their will may be the final act of this relationship, but it would be a messy and ugly one.
Cutting off the cable TV without warning was regrettable. Two months after your mother’s death, the best way to leave this relationship is by setting an example of how you wish to be treated, and how you like to treat others. Ask yourself: If I were to remove all negative feelings, justifiable or not, from this situation, what would the best version of me do? And do that.
You may feel angry at your siblings, and even your mother, for not being the people you wanted them to be or for not treating you in a way that you feel you deserved. But even if this anger is righteous, the only person it hurts is you. It’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us. The real test comes when we are asked to be magnanimous to those we believe have done us wrong.
You won’t erase the past or this house from your mind by forcing your siblings to sell your family’s home. Nor will it make your hurt or resentment go away. You all walk away with an equal share, but the moral and emotional consequences of a partition action will be your burden to bear. It would be a pyrrhic victory, the ashes from which would follow you for years to come.
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