Dividing and settling a family estate can be emotional and complex, especially when the heirs disagree about how it should be divided.
In one recent case, the mother of four adult children executed a Beneficiary Deed, which specified that her house be given equally among her children upon her death. One of the decedents’ sons had been unable to hold meaning full employment and/or support himself without assistance from his mother. As a result that son established permanent residency at the property and lived with his mother for many years before her passing. Based upon his long time residency when his mother passed that son took the position that his interests were superior to his three siblings. Notwithstanding the Beneficiary Deed, he then claimed the home as his own.
Two siblings, who did not want to enable their brother’s lifestyle, or give up their rightful claims, came to Evans Case to assess their options. They felt that it was fair that the house should be sold and the proceeds be divided equally among them. Typically in cases such as this, parties do not keep a property unless they all agree and determine a way for equal use.
Evans Case Partner Joe Stengel and Associate Tim Bounds took the case and worked delicately to settle the matter. First, they sent a letter to the brother notifying him that he was violating the terms of the Beneficiary Deed. He had the option to buy out the three remaining siblings and then keep the home, or they could all agree to sell the home so that the proceeds could be split equally.
He refused. Stengel and Bounds then filed an action of partition, which is rare because it results in a court-ordered forced sale if the judge agrees to it. Unfortunately, even when confronted with the realities of the Beneficiary Deed the parties could not reach an agreement. The two brothers had to take the case to trial. Both sides presented their arguments of the judge. After the Beneficiary Deed and testimony was submitted into the record the judge ruled in favor of the brothers who wanted to sell the property. The Judge ordered the house to be sold and the proceeds were to be split the equity among all four siblings.
“This was a very difficult case for everyone, even the judge,” Stengel said. “Our clients were hoping to resolve the matter without going to trial, but unfortunately there was no other way to reach an agreement. Our experience in settling family disputes helped us walk that fine line of presenting our case without further escalating the emotions of all involved.”