How To Divide Inherited Property Between Siblings? | RMO Lawyers
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How To Divide Inherited Property Between Siblings?

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When people pass away, they often leave behind bank accounts, investments accounts, retirement accounts, real property (homes, rental properties, etc.) and other personal assets as inheritance for their survivors. But how do two or more siblings divide up inherited real estate and other property? This question has caused countless family quarrels.

However, you can take measures to ensure an equitable distribution of property between your children when you pass on, and your surviving heirs can take steps to minimize disputes and allow everyone to benefit from the legacy intended for them.

Have questions? Schedule a free consultation online right now at RMOlawyers.com

How Do You Split Inheritance Fairly?

There is no single best answer on what constitutes a fair split of an inheritance.  Every family circumstance is different. But let’s start with an extremely straightforward example.

Imagine mom passes and is survived by her twin daughters. Neither daughter had borrowed money or otherwise took from mom while she was alive, and gifts mom showered them with during their life have largely been the same.  At her death, mom has $500,000 in the bank and the family home that also is worth $500,000.

In this case, mom might think that the easiest and fairest estate plan would be to leave one daughter her bank account (either via will, trust or joint account ownership) and one daughter sole possession of the family home (either via will, trust, transfer on death deed, or joint title ownership). Or, mom may think leaving each daughter half of the bank account and half of the house would be best (again using the same estate planning tools).

However, even simple scenarios like this one can cause kerfuffles. In the first scenario, one daughter gets cash, while the other daughter gets the family home.  If they both have an attachment to the home, the daughter who receives the cash might be upset, and if the daughter who inherits the home needs to sell it she will receive less because selling a home comes with significant sale costs.  In the second scenario, leaving both daughters owning the home together too may not work if they don’t get along or if they simply can’t agree on what should be done with the property (Should they live there? Should one of them live there?  Should it be rented, sold, etc.).  You can see how this can devolve.

Can Heirs’ Property Be Divided?

Heirs’ property is a term that is sometimes used to refer to real estate and land inherited when someone passes without an estate plan. Because there is no will, trust or deed to dictate to whom the property should be distributed, heirs’ property automatically will be divided among and distributed to the deceased’s next-of-kin according to state law.

For instance, if the deceased was a single man with three sons, each of the three sons would receive a one-third interest in their father’s real estate. Though laws regarding heirs’ property vary from state to state, generally, any of the three sons would have the right to live on, work, and, through other processes, force the sale of the land (take a look at our materials on partition actions for more information on selling an inherited property).

For the past many centuries, generally land inheritances generally consisted of working farms with acreage, which often were left to the oldest child who was taking over the farming operations, or the acreage would just be split between the kids. But what happens today, when three sons inherit a one-third share of the family house on a half-acre of otherwise indivisible piece of land?

The first question regarding the heirs’ property is who owns title to the house. The short answer is they all do, and if the decedent still had a mortgage, the kids would inherit the debt and need to continue making payments. They will need to agree on who will pay the mortgage, who will pay the property taxes, who will pay the utilities, etc. Preventing the house from being foreclosed upon is in all the siblings’ interest, even if none of them plan to live in or keep the house. And if they can’t agree on what to do with the house, then any of them can force a sale, even if the others do not want to sell.

How Do You Buy Out a Sibling’s Share of Real Estate?

Buying out a sibling’s share of real estate can be challenging. The more siblings or other next-of-kin splitting a single piece of the real estate, the more complicated this task becomes, but having an experienced partition attorney can make the process more manageable.

Typically, the easiest solution to these problems is to sell the family home and divide the proceeds equally amongst the heirs. So long as the property is not underwater in debt, selling the house will give each heir their share of the inheritance and prevent further squabbles.

However, when there are emotional attachments to a family home or property, often one or more siblings want to keep the house and buy out the other siblings’ ownership share. If we look back at the twin sister example from above, if, after an independent appraisal, the home’s market value is determined to be $500,000, one sister can offer to buy her sister’s half of the house for half that value.

Things like who should pay for the appraisal, whether closing costs should be deducted, shold there be a minority interest discount applied, etc. can all be negotiated, and it’s easier if an experienced partition action attorney is involved to facilitate the buyout. 

Separately, sometimes the sibling seeking to keep the home doesn’t have the funds to buy out the others immediately. In these cases, an estate litigation attorney can help guide you to alternative financing opportunities and other structures that can facilitate a buyout, including using legally valid promissory notes and other tools.

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.

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