My mother has four children. She is a wonderful mother, and my siblings and I are very close.
She has a reasonably comfortable retirement and is preparing her estate plan. She co-owns a lake cabin with my brother. It was originally my grandparents’ cabin and after their death, my mother and my brothers and sister and I purchased it together, with my mom owning 50% and the remaining four of us owning 12.5% each.
Ultimately, three siblings (including myself) needed to leave the ownership structure of the cabin for various reasons. My brother chose to buy us out. The stipulation of leaving the cabin required us to pay a 10% penalty, so he bought us out at our appraised share. He and my mom now own the cabin 50/50.
When my mother dies, our brother has first right of refusal to buy her share. Our question: Does he get her share at a 10% discount — which was our family’s estate attorney’s advice — or, given that my mom’s share is actually part of her estate, should he have to buy out her share at the fair market value?
It is my mom’s money/cabin, and we all feel that she can do anything she wants with it. Preserving family relationships is the most important thing to all of us, as we have all remained very close throughout this process. However, my mom wants to do what is right and fair. Can you please give your opinion?
Dear Cabin Fever,
You and your siblings sold to your brother at a discount because you all decided to sell your shares early, and the 10% penalty was implemented as a disincentive against selling during your mother’s lifetime. It’s a complicated business when there are so many owners.
The simplest thing to do would be for your mother to deed her 50% share of the cabin to your brother, and take that current market value at the time of her death — minus his quarter share — out of his inheritance and split it three ways.
However, it may be that the sale agreement specifies that your brother receives a discount on the sale of the remaining share. If that’s the case, he pays her for her 50% at a reduced price, as per the agreement, and you all live happily ever after.
Putting family properties in a trust can help avoid a lengthy probate, which is also a public process. While the process affords more privacy, it also comes with more paperwork and separate tax records, which can be onerous and/or expensive.
The best part about your story: You all appear to be navigating this tricky family financial dilemma with your relationships intact. That requires a lifelong commitment to not speaking (or emailing) in the heat of the moment.
If this column is any indication, that hardly ever happens.
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