I think my mother is being unfair with the distribution of her property, what can I do?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 21, 2016
Labubske asked...

My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 2010. She has now been placed on hospice and has been given little time to live. Though inheritance is not my main concern it is weighing on my mind. I have lived out of state since 1997. My only sibling, my brother, has lived with my Mom his entire life (he is 29) except for a short time in prison. Mom sold my grandmother's property in 2007 and bought the house that both she and my brother (and his wife and her two kids) live in that home. He has been there for her over the years and also he has benefited from living at home. However, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer I left my job in Florida and immediately came home. I also left my home again to come up to help while she is in hospice. Since arriving I was told that Mom put the house (160,000 dollar home) in my brothers name. Mom has told me all along that I would eventually see money from it and wanted to help me buy a home. I have also found out that my brother is just going to let me have the life insurance policy (13,000 dollars) and feels all will be even since he has been here with her through the years. I am adopted and he is biological and I cannot help but think that this is more of the reason why. I am also unclear of how clear her mind was when she signed over the house to him. They have been secretive about this move. My brother had intentions of taking out a loan to cover my portion of the house and now since she signed it over he is not going to do this. Do I have the ability to challenge this? Or am I going to continue on while my brother lives in the paid for home? I did check the property appraiser site and the house still shows up in my Mom's name.

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 a very difficult situation, as it raises all sorts of issues about your family, your relationship to your siblings, and how your mother is addressing your very different financial needs. There are two paths you could follow: one would be to find a family counselor or mediator, or maybe a pastor or spiritual advisor, who would agree to meet with all of you to openly discuss these concerns. The other path is a legal one, where you could meet with an attorney, who could evaluate whether or not the specifics of this situation warrant a claim that your mother lacked capacity to make the gift - or whether your brother exercised undue influence over her decisions. One possible approach is to take small steps in both directions -- by contacting a potential mediator and consulting privately with an attorney - and then make a decision on how to proceed. We often find that incremental decision-making works best in these difficult situations.