My mothers siblings want us to pay them back for funeral costs, can they do this?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 30, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Hi there, my mother died two years ago aged 53 and because she was on state benefits, her father paid for the funeral costs. We assumed that being her parent, that was fair enough. Now my grandad (mums father) has passed away and her share of the inheritance is due to us, her siblings are saying it was only a loan and that it is due out of what we are owed?! Can they do this??

Expert Answers

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

It's not a question of "whether" they can do this -- the question is whether it is legally valid. Generally one is not allowed to retroactively convert a gift or a voluntary payment into a loan, so most likely this is not legally valid. But what is more important is dealing with your family directly, to find out what is motivating them to make this request -- and to see how you can communicate with them to minimize future conflicts.

Community Answers

Leanderjuel answered...

Very interesting situation, as I am prompted to share my experience with a slight that, after my dad-in-law was asked for a loan by his nephew [at the memorial] to pay for the dual burial costs of both parents [dad died one day, mom the next] it was in that emotional moment and for his recently departed brother, that my dad-in-law said he would be glad to provide such assistance and quickly wrote out a check for $2000.00.

However, after the years went by with nothing from the nephew, it was only recently that dad [age 97, end of life] revealed to me how he had been harboring less than amicable feelings when he said, "They never had the decency to pay us back." Back then, dad and his wife could better absorb that cost and while we all knew the nephew was financially strapped, what dad missed the most was not the money, but more so how this blood relative, his own brother's son, did not have the integrity of character to 'at least' say he couldn't repay the loan 'he' had asked for.

In other words, as the expert mediators suggest, the best tact is to keep the channels of communication wide open to ask [even] the hard questions, then complete that business, and better avoid any long term or residual effects of hard feelings. Needless to say, dad grew up in a more genteel era [born 1913] when a man's handshake was all that was necessary to seal an honorable deal [contract] and when his nephew failed to abide by and appreciate this assumed as 'mutual' trust, it was not him, but dad who unnecessarily suffered in silence, of course to keep the peace. I mean, if we think we live in a civil society, people like the nephew must be held accountable [by others, if not themselves] for their actions or, in this case, promise. Otherwise, as it was for dad, those who 'unconditionally' trust will be taken unfair advantage of, each and every time.

Rfbrownpe answered...

Neither law, equity, nor ethics enables a retroactive creation of a debt. Absent a written agreement, or a verbal one that you hold as morally binding on you, made among you [Grandfather, your Mom's siblings and you] at the time of the payment, you have no obligation to your mother's siblings.

Further, they apparently were not party to the decisions of your grandfather and seem to only at this late hour consider this a way to extract money from you.

Perhaps they have harbored this resentment since the payment was made.

If they thought their position now is what your grandfather intended then, they had the obligation to clarify it with your grandfather then and to communicate the clarification to all concerned then. That still would not have obligated you, though it would have clarified your grandfather's expectation or desire.

The siblings did not do that, waiting until after his death to make their demands, when he could not speak for himself. This suggests to me that either they knew grandfather did not agree or were not sure and decided to take their chances on coercion of you through attempts at having you think you are 'guilty' or that you 'owe' them or that you will submit to their manipulation just to 'keep the peace' in the family.

I suggest to you, anyone who plays these games is not worthy of consideration and any 'peace' you may buy will not last long nor will it be a just peace, for you will have been the victim of fraud.

I'll bet there is much more in your family history to inform this situation and your eventual decision. Absent all that history, no one can accurately tell you what to do.

I for one, want such coercion and attempts a extortion through guilt to never be successful. If they are successful it sends a message to the world that it is ok to do that kind of thing. Fact is, it is never ok.

Consider 1 Corinthians 2:11, Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 32:8-11, Proverbs 21:2-8, Proverbs 15:1-4