Q: My parents died from the coronavirus within three weeks of each other. Their intent was to leave their house to me, and they shared this via emails and verbally to friends and family. They died without leaving a will.
There are four daughters. I paid the house off for my parents seven years ago and have paid the taxes each year since then. Two of my sisters signed over their share without incident.
One sister, however, is resistant to signing or responding. I’ve been told by an attorney she will be responsible for paying one-quarter share of the property taxes, homeowners insurance and any house-related repairs needing to be done, although not improvements.
Given that I carry 75% of the ownership as of right now, what happens if she does not pay her share of taxes, insurance and debt for repairs? Do my parents’ emails in which they expressed their wish for me to inherit their home count for anything legally?
A: My condolences on losing both your parents to this disease. I am glad you have family members who can support one another. Your sister may still be grieving the loss of your parents, so it may not be a good time to press this issue. Sometimes, it helps to give people the time and space they need; families can be torn apart by the emotional and financial fallout of a death. You have lost both your parents in a very short time, so I expect no one is thinking as clearly as they should.
To your last two questions: The Internal Revenue Service and insurance company don’t care who pays as long as they get paid. The people on the deeds are on the hook for the property taxes, and it might help to outline on paper all of the expenses associated with the house, and the money that you have already paid in renovations and mortgage payments, so she can see clearly exactly what her responsibilities are and what you have already committed financially to this property.
As for the emails your parents sent to you expressing their wish for you to inherit their home: While U.S. states differ on what constitutes a last will and testament — some allow handwritten wills, for example — your parents’ emails are unlikely to stand up in court. You could end up with property taxes, insurance and lawyers’ bills to pay before the year is out. As your family’s case illustrates, the coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the need for people to have up-to-date wills.
Let the dust settle on your property dilemma for now. Allow your family to process the last few months. You and your sister could still be in shock, and it’s a lot of pressure to ask her to make such a big decision now, even if it was clear that your parents wanted you to have their home. It could make matters worse instead of better, and irreparably damage your relationship with your family. When this sister realizes her own financial responsibilities, she may come around.