Can Siblings Force the Sale of Inherited Property?

The emotions that arise when a loved one dies can lead to many potential conflicts, especially among siblings. One of the most common types of disagreements is whether to keep or sell mom and dad’s home after they pass away.  While these issues often can be resolved through the probate estate or trust administration process, all-too-often properties are distributed in kind to the kids, leaving them owning property together despite the existence of their conflict.  At that point, under California law, if even one sibling wants to sell the house, they can force the sale of inherited property through a legal proceeding known as a “partition action.”

Can majority rule in selling an inherited property?

In California, “majority rule” is not the law of the land when it comes to selling an inherited property. When multiple people own real estate, any owner, including a minority owner, can bring a partition action if they wish to divest themselves of a property. 

Because real estate typically cannot be divided, if one party wants out, they can force the sale of the property to receive their share of the profits. This means that the forced sale of an inherited property can even occur when the majority of siblings want to maintain ownership of the house. However, many people in this situation choose to avoid the stress of litigation by buying out the sibling that wants to sell and keeping the house in the family. 

How do I force the sale of inherited property?

In California, a co-owner can force the sale of inherited property through a lawsuit called a “partition action.” This legal proceeding allows the sibling that does not want to keep their share of the home to have the court order it to be sold and the shares of the proceeds divided among all siblings.

Under California Code of Civil Procedure 872.210, a partition action may be brought by any co-owner as long as disagreement exists between owners about whether to sell and the property cannot be divided among the owners. Because single-family homes typically cannot be split into equal shares, a forced sale is necessary.

How do I stop the sale of inherited property?

Once a partition action has been filed, you are going to have a hard time stopping the sale. This is because California recognizes an absolute right to partition jointly-owned real estate, and the court will not force someone to keep owning a property they do not want to keep. 

However, the most favorable outcome when opposing a partition lawsuit is usually to reach a settlement agreement that allows the siblings who want to keep the home to buy out the sibling that wants to sell. This means that the fact that a partition action has been filed does not make the forced sale of the inherited property inevitable, as long as the siblings can reach an agreement. 

Settlement Negotiations

A probate litigation attorney can help siblings who inherit an estate property negotiate the sale of one co-owner’s share to another co-owner and avoid litigation altogether. The most common settlement scenario is where the siblings who want to retain ownership buy out those who want to sell. For example, say five siblings jointly inherit a home, and one wants to sell. One option would be for the four siblings who want to keep the home to buy out the one who wants to sell.  The five siblings would need to agree on the value of the house or, alternatively, have the property formally appraised. Of course, if someone doesn’t agree with the valuation that too can lead to litigation. 

If an information resolution cannot be secured and litigation ensues, settlement is still a possibility, either through continued informal negotiations, a mandatory settlement conference, or a mediation session, all while the action is pending. If the parties still can’t agree, the partition action will move forward, and the home will be sold, either to the public, which can include any sibling who wants to buy the property through that process, if they are the highest bidder.

If you are involved in a disagreement with your siblings over whether to sell an inherited property, you should consult with a probate litigation attorney as soon as possible. Whether you want to keep the house or sell it, an experienced partition action lawyer can help protect your interests by prosecuting or defending a partition action that protects what your parents intended.

Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.
Call (424) 320-9444 or email hello@rmolawyers.com

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About RMO, LLP

RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn, has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com.