Can we sell the house even though grandma is still alive?

Diamond1 asked...

My grandmother turned her house over to my mom 26 years ago, with the understanding that Grandmother would still live there until she dies. She fell ill a year ago and my uncle moved her out of the house and in with him, as she can never live by herself again. My mom would like to sell the house but is not sure if she can, with that clause in it that my grandma lives there till she dies. How does that work for my mom? She cannot afford to put the money into the house for work it needs and she does not want to move in there, so the house is just sitting. The house is paid off and all my grandmother's belongings were moved out by my uncle when he moved her out.

Expert Answer

It seems clearly desirable that your mother sell her mom's (your grandmother's) home, even though her mom is still living. You state that your uncle has moved your grandmother in with him, and that she can never live on her own again. There seems to be no good reason for your grandmother's house to sit empty.

I can't tell what legal rights your mother has to sell the house. You say that your grandmother "turned her house over" to your mom. Does that mean that your grandmother executed a legal deed, transferring the house? Is your mother the documented, legal owner? You also state that there was "an understanding" that your grandmother would live in the house until she dies. Was this an understanding that was put in writing? Was it put into a deed, or whatever document (if any) transferred the house to your mother?

If your mother is the legal owner of the house, she can sell it, subject to any legal restriction on her rights to sell. If your mother is not the legal owner, or there is a legal restrictions against her selling the house while your grandmother lives, your mother needs to obtain legal authority to sell the house. If this is necessary, the easiest way would be to have your grandmother transfer ownership, or agree to waive any rights she may have to live in the house. If your grandmother isn't competent to do this, whoever has legal authority to manage her affairs can do it. But if your grandmother is competent and refuses to transfer ownership, there's little your mother can do, beyond trying to show her that it's wasteful to keep the house as it is.

Some further questions: Does your grandmother have a will (or living trust)? Did she leave her house to any people in her will or trust? Or is it clear that the house goes entirely to your mother, at your grandmother's death. Still more questions: If the house is sold, will some of the profits be used to pay for your grandmother's living expenses? Was this issue ever discussed between your mother and your grandmother? In any case, what's the right thing to do?

I hope your mother and grandmother can get this all worked out.