How can I legally get payment from my mother -in-aw for a property we co-own?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 22, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother-in-law, who has dementia, is half-owner of a piece of property that we both own equally. She lives in a nursing home and her daughter doesn't pay any of her bills. What can I do legally to get her half of the payment? The mother has a trust fund through a financial planner.

Expert Answers

Liza Hanks is the founder and owner of FamilyWorks Estate Planning, a law firm with offices in Campbell and Los Altos, California, and the author of The Busy Family's Guide to Estate Planning (Nolo, 2007).

It appears that you have two issues to deal with: the immediate issue of paying bills, and the larger issue of your mother-in-law’s ability to manager her financial affairs.

Is anyone paying her bills? If she has a durable power of attorney for finances in place, the agent authorized to act in it should be taking care of this. If she does not, you may need to consider getting a guardianship or conservatorship for her through the local probate court.

As to the expenses specifically: If your mother-in-law has a trust established, and her half of the property is in that trust, you can request payment from the trustee of that trust for the expenses due. If your mother-in-law is the trustee, but is not competent to manage the trust any longer, her children may, depending on what the trust says, be able to petition a court to replace her with a competent trustee.

You can also, in most states, bring a petition to force the sale of the property, if you own it as joint tenants with her, and split the proceeds.

If, however, you do not want to sell the property, you had best discuss the issue with your husband and his family. It sounds as though your mother-in-law needs someone else to manage her finances properly, and these expenses are only part of a larger problem.