Picture it: North Carolina, May 2018. My grandfather passed away a few years ago and left a nice piece of property to his two heirs. My mom inherited the house; my uncle inherited the land. It was always decided — even in her will — that after her passing, my brother and I would inherit the house and do with it as we pleased.
A year or so after my grandfather’s death, my brother approached my mother about purchasing the house. Considering that it was our inheritance, she asked if I was OK with this arrangement. The agreement was that I would receive the proceeds of the sale of the house, and that my brother would move in.
I agreed, on the condition that payment was received within a reasonable amount of time — six months — and that in the event of his marriage ending, his spouse would have no claim or living rights to the house. This was agreed upon by all parties, and my brother and his family quickly moved in.
‘My family offered me a check for less than 10% of the sale of the house. I refused to accept the payment and we have not spoken since, other than ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ or ‘Merry Christmas’ texts. ‘
Three years after he moved in, my brother still refused to pay for the house. He cited his looming divorce — did I call it or what? — and job insecurities as the reason he was unable to actually “purchase” the house. After a heated discussion with our mother, my brother took out a loan and paid my mother for the house.
When it came time to transfer my share of the money to me, I was met with “You actually owe me a few thousand dollars.” My family offered me a check for less than 10% of the sale of the house. I refused to accept the payment and we have not spoken since, other than “Happy Mother’s Day” or “Merry Christmas” texts.
I have spent the entirety of my life being the smarter, more successful child while my brother continues to be coddled by our mother — he’s over 30 with no job, and my mother is still paying his bills and even doing his laundry. She is an enabler who refuses to admit it.
There have been similar situations like this in the past where I get shafted and just have to deal with it. I guess at this point I am over being overlooked, even though I am solely relied on for almost everything when it comes to our family. I am just looking for a little clarification on what my rights and options are going forward.
Do I have any legal claim to the sale of the house? Is this truly fair?
High and Dry Daughter in Raleigh, N.C.
Dear High and Dry,
You have no legal claim to the house. It belongs to your brother now. And you have no legal claim to the proceeds from the sale of the house. They sit in your mother’s bank account. The legal contract was between your brother and your mother.
It’s a funny business. We will never know whether or not this was the plan all along, to sell your brother the house and “cut you” out of a deal that did not even technically include you. But speculating on other people’s motivations won’t help you now.
Is it legal? Of course. Your mother sold her home to your brother, fair and square.
Is it fair? Life isn’t fair. If I told you it wasn’t fair, would you hold on to this for the rest of your days? That would be a higher price to pay.
‘He could do no wrong. You did everything right, as you see it. No amount of money will fix that.’
— The Moneyist
The house and how the sale was handled are a proxy for how you feel you’ve been treated and perceived by your mother throughout your life. Your brother could do no wrong. You did everything right, as you see it. No amount of money will fix that.
You worked hard and made a success of your life, and it certainly sounds as if you are financially independent. Sure, who wouldn’t benefit from a cash windfall? But would you swap places with your brother now?
Your best hope of receiving a share — I did not say “fair share” — of the house is that your mother leaves you whatever remains of the proceeds of the sale in her will. She may need that money for living expenses and unforeseen medical care.
Ultimately, it’s an odd arrangement. Your mother sells the house to your brother and gives a percentage of the sale to you. What does your mother get out of this arrangement? It’s hard to blame her for pocketing the proceeds.
It was her house, after all.
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