Reader Question: My grandparents chose to die with no will. All their children passed except three sisters. My mother and several siblings passed. One of the grandchildren has been paying taxes for years, and another has been paying electricity. Do these three sisters have the right to sell timber and leave the grandchildren out?
Monty’s Answer: Every state has a law that describes the disposition of an estate when people die without a will. The code in each state is different. The fact that the living sisters have allowed other progeny to contribute to expenses may be a legitimate claim to the recovery of those costs. State law may also speak to that question.
If they have already said “no,” consider seeking two legal opinions as to your options. At this point, you are asking for a viewpoint. You are not engaging the attorney. If it is speculation on your part, consider arranging a family meeting, or possibly having one of the grandchildren meet with one of the sisters.
There is no mention of the size of the property or the value of timber. This information is essential to understand. For example, twenty acres of walnut trees may be more valuable than 100 acres of basswood. Individual payouts will be less as the number of descendants increase.
Do the three sisters have children? What is the total number of grandchildren? Has there been a conversation with each sister? Have they have jointly declared that they will not reimburse the expenses made on their behalf?
There are choices for family members
- Accept the decision and set it aside for the future. The sisters may ultimately pass the property, and the proceeds of the timber sale to these relatives.
- Start a conversation utilizing a mediator to act as an arbitrator. There are many advantages to this method of solving disagreements, not the least of which is mediation is less confrontational than a legal proceeding. The mediation process involves an agreement upfront that both parties will abide by the mediator’s decision. Here is a link to an article with more information about mediation.
- If the sisters decline to mediate, decide on which attorney to utilize. Here is an article about how to find an excellent real estate attorney that may be helpful.
It is unclear in the information provided here as to the quality of the relationship between the family members. With grandchildren paying operating costs, it appears positive on the surface. Often, family members do not like to discuss death or dying and all the emotions that go along with it. Work hard to proceed on a path that results in progress toward fairness and a solution where the relationships are intact. It is okay to have misunderstandings, and they do happen. It is also okay to communicate openly between the family members.