How do I resolve the conflict around my parents house with my sister?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 24, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother left her house to me because I took care of her and my father for years and lived with them. I have a sister, who lives in another state and who did not help us. Originally, my mother had left some money to me and intended to leave the house to me and my sister, but we spent the money on her nursing home care because she developed a terrible bedsore while in the hospital and needed skilled nursing care. She never came home because the bedsore did not heal, and the medical staff decided to stop treatment against her wishes, but she changed her will and left the house and its contents to me. My sister received 1/2 of the life insurance and some I bonds, but she told me that "if I don't receive one third or half of the house, I don't have a sister." Now she wants $100,000 from me, payable over 10 years as her share, and then she says she won't ask for anything else. I paid her over $300 so far this year, but some trees fell on the house, and I am trying to get the damage fixed before paying her any more money. Should I pay her the $100,000? She also wants me to sell the house when I retire and help her buy another house, help her husband start a second career when he retires, and she wants me to leave her the house in my will I had discussed paying money to sy sister with my mother, and she thought it was a good ides, but $10,000 a year is a lot for me to pay. My parents gave my sister a lot of money and material things, but it never seems to be enough. I don't know what to do. Thank you!

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.

This is not a simple problem at all, and it is far too complex for us to answer in this format. We've often seen such conflicts arise after the death of a parent, and the underlying issues of who deserves what and who helped more can surface in all sorts of settings. The most difficult aspect of the challenge is navigating the intersection between the legal answer and the emotional answer. You always want to be aware of your legal rights, as heir to the house, so that you know whether or not your sister could actually make a legal claim against you. This may involve a question of whether or not the change in your mother's will is valid, and whether you are vulnerable to any challenge on that front. With regard to the non-legal territory, you may need to work through what your relationship will in fact be with your sister, and whether you want to try to heal the rifts that have developed. Our suggestion is that you find a good team of professionals, both therapist and lawyer, and spend a few hours with each one of them, to help you develop a strategy that appears best given all the considerations. It won't be easy - but that is something you already know!