You never know how close you are to your family until you have to share an inheritance with them.
I am wrapping-up a case where my client’s mother died, leaving a Will that equally-distributed her real estate between her two somewhat-acrimonious sons. Usually this apartment would be sold, proceeds disbursed, and everyone would go their separate way. However, my client’s brother insisted that he could make them more money if he improved the real estate.
His brother (my client) was not so hip on this idea – none of them had any real estate investing experience – but through sheer force, perseverance and presumption his brother had his own son move in (which he did – with a few kewl friends), update the apartment (his “improvements” would have dishonored his ancestors), and attempted to invalidate certain government restrictions over the apartment (Question: Do you think this worked?) (Hint: No). So, the real estate did not appreciate, the apartment eventually sold for the same initial asking price, and the estate was $15,000 worse-off for the efforts.
And then the brother demanded my client reimburse his son half of the “improvement” costs that were in-actuality losses. I was prepared to call his bluff and tell the brother he could take this to court and see where things landed, but first cautioned my client that I would become another beneficiary due to expected legal fees. To his credit, my client realized his mother never wanted a legal dispute between her sons, desired to keep the money in the family, and agreed to the demands for payment.
There are two morals to this story: First, if you are the Executor of an estate that is experiencing a dispute ask yourself whether the decedent would have wanted their money greasing multiple attorneys’ pockets. Show understanding where the other party may be lacking it, be the better person, and consider paying the (nominal) demanded fee.
The second lesson is: Before you try dabbling in real estate improvement, consider running around with a sharp set of rusty scissors instead*, because you’re looking for trouble if you think Bob Villa just walked into his job.
* Don’t actually run around with scissors.