Thursday, September 3, 2015
Executor still won't sell land after 13 years
Posted by Lynne Butler
"13 years since our dad died but my brother still holds onto the land and pays $10,000 in taxes every year. The land is only worth $350,000 now take half away for paying taxes with? He won't sell because his price is way too high and won't come down to normal market value. Why is there nothing family members can do but sit by and watch or hire lawyers to eat up the remaining amount...stupid."
I'm assuming that your brother is the executor of your father's estate.
This is an interesting situation because 13 years is just way too long without a really good reason. The only reason revealed by your note is that the executor wants a higher price for the land than he can get. I would suggest that it works for him to hang onto the land, whether he lives on it or farms it, or in some other way benefits from keeping it. It appears to be a situation in which the executor has simply said "no" to any suggestion that the estate be wound up.
That leads me to the question of what, exactly, you and the other beneficiaries have done to request or demand that the estate be dealt with. When a beneficiary does nothing to pressure an executor to wind up the estate, the beneficiary is participating in what is called "beneficiary acquiescence". Basically this means that you've been behaving as if you're ok with it taking so long.
It doesn't mean that you can't change things, because you can. But it will be pretty hard to, say, get costs against the executor for taking too long if you've been going along with his delays. Beneficiary acquiescence is a defense for executors who are accused of dragging their feet.
It's true that if you want to light a fire under a reluctant executor, you will probably have to hire a lawyer. That's the legal system we have; anyone who wants to enforce their rights has to use the courts, and the rules and processes are pretty complicated.
You can save costs by taking the first step yourself. The first step is to let the executor know that your patience has run out and you want your inheritance. Since he is a family member, I expect that any communication about the estate has probably been verbal, but I suggest you now make this demand in writing. This will clearly show that even if you were acquiescing before, you are not doing so any longer. Be polite, but firm about the fact that you want the property sold as soon as possible. Set a reasonable deadline. If there are other beneficiaries, see if they want to add their demand to yours.
You could hire a lawyer to do this for you, but as I said, you can save a bit on costs by doing this part yourself. Ideally, your letter to the executor will open up a conversation about the sale of the property. If you and he get into a discussion about who is going to do what, you may find that a mediator might be more useful than a lawyer. If he absolutely refuses to go ahead, then you may have to hire a lawyer to get the matter in front of a judge to compel the executor to sell the property.
Normally, I would expect an executor who has been delaying the estate for 13 years to be ordered to pay the cost of your lawyer as well as his own from his own resources (not the estate), but this may not happen if you cannot establish that you actually tried to get him to sell it during that time. I know you are concerned about the estate being depleted by legal fees, but there is no automatic right by anyone to have their fees paid out of the estate. Normally an executor is indemnified by the estate for legal fees, but then, most executors are not being forced to get on with it 13 years later.
Another issue that needs to be addressed in all of this is the condition of the land now compared to 13 years ago. You didn't say whether it has a house or buildings on it, but if so, has the executor been keeping up with maintenance? If there are habitable buildings, has he been renting them out to make money for the estate? All of this needs to be factored in if this gets in front of a judge, so that the judge can see how the executor has been discharging his duties.
Nothing about this is cut and dried, but it can be resolved. I wish you the best of luck, and I hope to hear from you soon that this stalemate has come to a satisfactory end.