Monday, June 16, 2008

Just... Help

Hypothetical question:

Your parents are dead. Their estate included two houses, one car, a bunch of furniture and antiques, and a big chunk o'cash. They said, you and your sister split it 50-50. They said, you can pick one house to live in if you want, and if so, sister's half of the equation is balanced by matching the appraisal amount in cash from the estate accounts. Zillow.com showed the two properties estimated close in range.

You chose to keep your childhood home. Your sister was thrilled because it's newer, and she anticipated it would appraise high and that Granny's farm would appraise low because of the condition of the house, giving her big money, and maybe you might even OWE her money (tra-la, tra-la).

Appraisals were done. Shock. Childhood home appraised much lower than anticipated; the farm appraised higher. There is a $60,000 difference between the values now. Lawyer suggested splitting the cash down the middle "now" (right after Mom died), and that the difference on sister's side would be made up when the farm sold. Everyone agreed.

Until August 2007, when sister decided that didn't work for her, and demanded that she be equalized in cash immediately, which would have left you penniless and no money in the accounts for estate expenses. You said, "Uh... no."

And the games began.

Since then, you've made countless suggestions (via email and sometimes by phone) to your sister over the past umpteen months on how to split up the estate money while the properties are still on the market. In every instance, the amount you're taking grows smaller and smaller.

You've watched your (parents') dreams of (your getting a) master's degree go down the tubes without the money to pay for the in-between classes that financial aid won't cover. You've lived with increasing frugality off of the savings you had (note the past tense). You've looked for jobs. Your field is dry, and it's even tough to find menial labor around here. You've put plenty of stuff up for sale (anyone want a rolltop desk? a stove? a washer/dryer? a banjo?) but so far, sales have been slow. You joined a band, you've done one gig for $100. You've decided to *gasp* sell one of your beloved horses because you can't afford to board two anymore. You can't really afford one, but... he's your first baby. You can't let HIM go, too.

You've wracked your brain about the settlement, trying to be fair to both. Sister has rejected every one flat out, claiming she's being shortchanged if we do it that way, despite the fact that once equalized, everything thereafter is split 50-50, and there are still two lots to go and they WILL sell eventually for good money. Sister has no faith that the farm will ever sell. Sister has never offered up any possible ways to split it despite your constantly asking her for HER ideas.

Farm got subdivided into three lots in March. Within a month, one lot sold for close to the asking price. Hurrah. More money in the estate accounts. Possibility of settling.

In the most recent attempt, you suggest splitting the profits from the lot sale that occurred in April, so each gets X, then leave X behind for expenses, and give the rest to her so she's almost equalized against the house and car you "already got" (her words). Yes, it means waiting a bit longer for "the rest", from when one of the other two lots sells.

She summarily rejects your offer, sneering, "Why do YOU need that much money?"

You blink a few times as you read this response, shake it off, and are glad she's 250 miles away and therefore out of reach.

She continues, "how about we split it this way—I'll get my equalization, and you'll still get X dollars, and there'll be some left behind for expenses."

What she's offering to "give" you or "let" you have is far less than you really feel comfortable taking, but you've realized she's not willing to forego one penny of her "entitlement" out of anything remotely resembling kindness, compassion or generosity (because apparently they don't exist) and you know that the amount will get you back on solid ground and give you a bit of a cushion until one of several things happens (the two estate-owned lots sell, your other house sells, you finally find a decent job, you win the lottery, a rich man sweeps you off your feet).

You look over the account balances, do the math, and see that yes, it is feasible to split it this way and it does leave a reasonable chunk behind to cover asses and minor expenses related to the one lot. Now that everything else has pretty much been paid, the only expenses remaining are things like a tiny water bill, the tiny electric bill, and insurance/property tax.

You reason that the lawyer's flat fee (THANK GOD he's not hourly and we already know what the exact fee is) can be paid at the closing.

You remember the lawyer said that closing means the remaining lots are sold, the last expenses paid out, the lawyer is paid, and the remaining amounts in the estate accounts are split.

You reason that even if the farmhouse falls down, the lot itself is worth enough that, in combination with the other bare land lot, it's a safe bet that one day, they'll sell and bring in a good $100,000 or so (if the house stays standing, more), which is beyond adequate to cover the aforementioned expenses and lawyer fee and STILL have money left over to split 50-50.

You reason that what happens to the other two lots is not that significant, because if you accept this offer, you're EQUAL, which is what sister has been squawking about for over two years (since before Mother even died).

You reason that it's in everyone's best interest to accept this offer, because it helps both of you out. It helps you get back on your feet, and it helps dig her out of her enormous debt.

You email back and say "OK, so I'll take X, and we'll equalize you, and we'll leave X in the account for butt coverage."




That means I've accepted her offer, doesn't it? We're agreed. She made a deal, I emailed back and confirmed that I accepted it.




So.

Explain to me this.

Her response to my email was "I think we need to leave more behind for expenses, X won't be enough."

Would you call that a blatant attempt to renege on the offer I already accepted?

Because that's what I call it. I also call it B*LLSH*T.

Because it seems that she's not interested in settling and getting "her" money. Am I wrong to believe that her intent is to work until she finds a way to make certain that I get absolutely ZERO dollars from the estate and that she gets all of it, by using every excuse in the book as to why it needs to stay in the account?

Am I wrong to believe that if one is getting 10% as much as the other is, the one with the most cash should be the one leaving a smidgen behind to cover their worries? Especially when the one getting 10% versus 100% is in dire straits and might not have internet service or food in two weeks if something doesn't break quick?

If I said to her, "OK then—what do YOU think I "deserve" to get?"...



I forgot to mention that she ended her email of reneging with the cheery line:

"So—is there anything special you want for your birthday?"



I'd post a PayPal button for charitable donations, but that just seems tacky.

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6 Comments:

At 8:03 PM, June 16, 2008, Blogger Sheepish Annie said...

Do they use mediators as part of these processes in your state? I've not gone that route myself, but I've worked with some and had some training in youth mediation and it can be really helpful.

Of course, this is assuming that your sister is even willing to consider it. The fact that she seems to have a hidden agenda and more issues than IK magazine might make it difficult...

 
At 9:38 PM, June 16, 2008, Blogger Lola said...

She sounds like she has an agenda. That's all I can think of.

 
At 5:45 PM, June 17, 2008, Blogger Laura said...

This is a little off the main subject. I don't know if you've already started a master's program or what you want to study, but if you check around you may find a school that would pay you to go. A lot of master's programs use their grad students as T.A.'s and pay them a small stipend,health care and cover their tuition.

 
At 8:21 PM, June 17, 2008, Anonymous Carrie K said...

Birthday present: A better sister?

A mediator sounds like a fabulous idea. Divorce yourself from the idea of "equal" and "sister" and just treat the whole thing as a business deal with a complete stranger. Clearly reason and love isn't going to get you anywhere.

 
At 8:28 PM, June 17, 2008, Blogger Mother of Chaos said...

Ditto carrie k. Maybe it's time to forget she's your sibling and treat her as though she's a random stranger off the street with a contract.

We do it by the book. To the letter. Period. The End.

And meanwhile - deep breaths. Try to stay calm. The waters are rough right now, but the voyage will be worth doing, yes?

 
At 8:29 PM, June 18, 2008, Blogger Krista said...

Hello! I am writing to see
if you wanted to contribute to
an afghan for Rachael at yarn-a-gogo
in sympathy for losing her mom. I
am trying to collect 8 inch knit
squares.
Please contact me at knitdelaware
ATyahooDOTcom and let me know.
Thanks! Krista M

 

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