Grandma wants to give me her house when she passes but she has no will, do I have any rights to it?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My grandmother is 94 years old & has copd. She is my moms mom. She raised me all my life and I lived with her most of my life. She's the only mom I've ever known. My mom & her sister are the only children. Until recently I lived with my grandma and took care of her almost all of the time. Her other daughter lives next door but does nothing for her. My grandma wanted me & my son to have her house when she passes but she has no will. Do I have any rights what so ever?

Expert Answer

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.

The best way for anyone to insure that their intentions are fulfilled is to sign a will or a trust document, or for real estate, to put the property into "joint tenancy" with one's designated heir. If your grandmother signs any of those three legal documents, her house will pass to the person she designates in that document. The three of them are referred to generically as testamentary documents. Without her signing such a legal document, it is unlikely that there will be a valid legal basis for conveying the house to you and your son. Instead, your grandmother will have died intestate, which means to die without a will or similar testamentary document signed. Every state has its own rules about transferring property in such a situation, and most likely it would go 50/50 to your grandmother's two daughters, your mom and her sister.

In some instances you can file a legal claim against your grandmother's estate, asserting that she had made an oral promise to you and your mom, or asserting that you are owed something extra because of the work you did. But it's not likely that such a claim will succeed. If you want to evaluate the prospects of such a claim you should consult with an estate lawyer in your local area.

Hard as it may seem to accept, in our society adult children do not have a legal obligation to help their parents, and parents don't have an obligation to bequeath anything to their children at all. The legal system assumes that everyone is in charge of their own destiny, and that if no will or trust was signed that your grandmother was fine with intestacy rules being applied.

After all that you've done for your grandmother, it is difficult to accept that you have no rights to the house without a legal document. At age ninety-four, it is unlikely that she will be able to take on a project as complicated as a will. After your grandmother dies, the future of house is uncertain. Your mother and her sister may choose to sell it.

We believe it is important for you to begin to take care of yourself in the same devoted way that you took care of your grandmother. As disappointed as you are, begin to plan for your own future. How will you create your own security when the time comes that you don't have access to the shelter of your grandmother's house? Do you have a job that covers your expenses, including housing? Will you need additional training or further education to enable you to earn more than you are making now?

It is not disrespectful to plan for the future after your grandmother is gone. As close as you are to her, she wants the very best for you and you can make it happen.