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Saturday, March 4, 2017

The house was left to two siblings but only one lives there. What about paying expenses?

Parents often want to leave their home to their children, and most of the time it's a terrible idea. In other cases, it can work out alright as long as the children reasonable. Agreements are hard to reach and even harder to maintain over time. A reader wrote to me to ask about a situation in which a house was left to two siblings and only one lives there. The question and my response follow:

"My friend's father passed away and left half the house to my friend and half to her brother who is very well off. My friends is collecting CPP which is just under $600 a month. Her brother told her that she could live in the house as long as she pays all the maintenance fees and bills. Doesn't the brother have to pay half of the main bills like property tax, house insurance as long as the house isn't sold? My friend lived there with her parents all her life."

The house has two owners now, and they can come to any agreement they wish when it comes to the occupancy of the house. It seems to me that your friend  has come out on top of the deal in this case. In most cases, joint owners of a property will share the expenses that preserve the house, which include those you mention such as maintenance, property tax, and insurance. However, in most cases, the home is not occupied by one owner at no cost while the other owner lives elsewhere at his own expense.

You wonder whether the brother might "have to" pay half the bills. In other words, you think your friend should insist on him paying for the upkeep of his half. But if she insists on him meeting every obligation of an owner, shouldn't she expect him to also get every benefit of being an owner? This would of course mean that she should be paying him rent at fair market value to live there, and I doubt she wants to do that.

In most cases where two siblings inherit a house together, one has to buy the other one out if she wants to live there. That is another right the brother could insist upon if your friend decides that everyone has to go strictly by the book.

The fact that she lived there all her life with her parents does not entitle her to live there for free now. The house has new owners so all past arrangements are off. It would be great for your friend if she could continue to live rent-free without having to move, but her brother has rights, too. It seems to me that he has made a generous arrangement that is much more to your friend's advantage than it is to the brother. He can't live there and can't sell it, and doesn't make a dime in rent, but still carries the responsibility and liability of owning a property.

Another option is for the house to be sold and the money divided between them. Your friend could then use her half of the funds to find a cheaper place to live. However, without knowing the parents who set up their wills to leave the house to both children, I would say that the brother is doing his best to carry out what he sees as his parents' wishes. Let's hope for your friend's sake that his financial situation does not take a turn for the worse so that he must insist upon a sale of the house.


  1. You are so right about leaving a house to more than one child. I wonder if the parent(s) had a Will put together by a lawyer. I would think any savvy lawyer would advise against it.
    The brother has been generous. Apparently he is 'very well off'. This should be settled before one or the other dies. If he has a loving relationship with his sister I would suggest why not just give it to her or make her 'an offer she can't refuse'

    1. Sometimes parents absolutely insist on putting both (or more) kids on the title no matter what we say. It's one of those "it can't happen to me" things. When that happens, we have to make the wills the way the client wants, then make copious notes about how it was done against our advice, for the day it all falls apart. Because it will.


  2. Lynne, thank you for what you do here.
    First class service.

    I am sole beneficiary and executor of a BC estate.

    Had I know in the beginning where this would go I would have renounced executorship, but I was comingled before the body was cold and the will located, so I can’t unring that bell.

    So here’s the deal;
    The only asset is a piece of property in a remote location.
    Zero cash on hand and except for CPP Death Benefit, zero income.

    There is a mortgage, an unsecure LOC, which will soon be registered against the title via small claims. There is a small credit card debt. Added to my administration expenditures, the assets will soon be eaten up.

    In order to protect the property, the stakeholders and myself I have, since death in September, put $10,000 of my own money into this thing; Probate fees, utilities, insurance, repairs, mortgage payments etc. Those costs will continue.

    Grant of Administration was issued in January and the property was immediately listed with a broker. It is going to be a very hard sell. Vacancy insurance is extremely difficult and costly to secure.

    I am confident I have performed my duties well and cared for the estate properly, but…

    At some point, I would guess by the end of June, a sale will likely be a break even with no reimbursement to me. At that point I will l reach my limit of financial assistance and good will.


    What are my options and obligations?
    If I just stop paying am I in any way liable for deterioration of the property?
    Do I just hand the keys to the bank and walk away?
    At foreclosure, can I recover any of my personal expenses as executor?

  3. Had I know in the beginning where this would go I would have renounced executorship...[..]

    A word to the wise is sufficient. It is no longer considered an honour to be asked to be an executor. Perhaps it should be but it is not. Since I have been going through Estate Hell for over 11 years I speak from experience.

    Your tale of woe sounds rather complicated. I am curious as to how it gets resolved.

  4. @ Lynne,
    An idea-For those who do accept the role, the task, of being Executor, perhaps the person named Executor should ask that the testator include a clause in the Will that gives the Executor 20% above the Executor fees should anyone create a problem that holds the Executor 'hostage' from resolving and settling the Estate for no good reason. I would want a signed copy of that clause ie codicil? I have 2 children and I have considered doing that.
    In my case, I was never asked and did not find out till my parent passed that I was named Executor. It was a very simple Estate, but simple does not remain simple with a disgruntled sibling.

    1. I like that idea. It imposes a deterrent on those who are unreasonable. It also compensates the executor without him having to ask the court to set his fees. Hmmm, I'm going to give that some more thought.


  5. Hi there, I've asked this question before, but I think it fits better here. We do have an estate lawyer but I'm wondering if he's helping us fully here. My grandma died and she lived in one province, my aunt in another. We did everything in terms of taking care of my grandparents for the past 30+ years. On the night Grandma died my aunt, her eldest child, refused to even come out here. I was forced to go through all of Grandma's papers where I found a handwritten will. My aunt has lived in my grandma's house for free for the past 25+ years in another province. Her sons lived there fore free as well. My aunt wants that house. My grandma says it should be sold in her handwritten will. My aunt is now being a total cow, my husband is executor and my aunt has blocked our phone #, has refused to communicate with us, and is standing in the way of the estate being settled. She also thinks the house should be hers with no money going to my mother. My mother is very ill and I'm also caring for my mother. My aunt has also been harassing us, sending horrible letters that say horrible things about us. My grandmother also left a huge, huge pile of letters between my aunt and her, where my aunt and her sons were asking for more and more and more money from my grandma. My aunt and her sons never, ever visited my grandparents, not even when they were sick. I mean, can one person actually tie up an estate like this, especially when she has already benefited so much through the years from my grandma? And does she really stand any chance of inheriting the house? Also, my grandma seems to have been being financially abused by my aunt and her sons but she didn't tell us what was going on. Can anything be done after the fact? Thank you.

  6. Since this is a blog we can all comment, in a civil manner.
    What a dysfunctional family. One big mess. In my opinion-- the only real thing of value here is the 'hand written' Will. It will have to be authenticated. The Court is not interested in the minutiae of your dysfunctional family. Unless it can be proven that there was or there is misappropriation of estate funds then there not much that can be done. That would be expensive to pursue. Hearsay has little to no value. "Just the facts mam". Your husband is the Executor and he has to get to the bottom of this with his lawyer. I don't see how your aunt can block the sale of the house. She does not have squatter's rights. I would be curious to know what else is in the Will. Your phone number has been blocked by your aunt? How is that possible? IMHO.

  7. Thank you webeye, and you are correct, being executor just stinks. We wish we had never agreed to this. Just the facts is the best possible outcome, we just want this settled. Grandma was old, the estate is not huge. But we're worried my aunt will find some way to use squatter's rights, so I hope you're correct in that. I'm hoping Lynn's advice above also would stand, that there would be a new arrangement in place now, regardless of any arrangement my aunt had with my grandma. And yes, the family is a mess. So horrible to see after the fact that your elder was being abused, we really had no idea this was going on to this extent. Thank you for your input. I'm sorry to hear of your exectuor challenges as well. Beware, beware if you're asked!


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