How to Enforce Verbal Contract Made About Mother’s Home After She Passed Away

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“My husband was the POA for his mother for years. When she was placed into a nursing home, his three siblings came to us and said they wanted us to move into her home. The house needed alot of work. Seven dumpsters of stuff thrown away before they could even do a huge estate sale. We told the family it needed too much work and we could not afford to do it. They told us to use her money to do the updates and we could live there to save money and then buy it at market value when she passed, or if she ran out of money before passing, we would have to buy the house for full price.

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

About 9 mos before her passing, they said they dont remember the deal and that we were to be paying rent that whole time. It is their word against ours, two against three, and nothing in writing. They all three live out of state. My husband took care of his mother for years.

We WANT to buy the house at the appraised value of 200k. At the time of her going into the nursing home, with a hand full of updates to be done, it would have appraised at 140. An additional 50k was spent to update further..using her money and the siblings all agreed we could do that. My husband sent photos of the updates all along. They were fine with it. The sister asked why we didnt do more ! Now the house appraises at 200k but only b/c the updates were done. The family will get more money b/c we did that than they would have had we sold it at 140 a few years ago. Basically, the estate gets the money back in the purchase of the house. They told us they would do whatever it takes to make it affordable for us. My sister in law said this over and over. They wanted so much to keep the house in the family. I was very nervous to take them up of the offer b/c there was nothing in writing and I worried that if she ran out of money before she passed, we couldnt afford it. Now they are saying we owe them back rent from the time we moved in. The oldest brother is now the executor. We dont have this rent money, and that was not the agreement. Can they sue us? Can they say my husband mishandled her funds b/c we didn’t have written approval?

They were not once involved in her care for the last ten years. They didn’t even help with the funeral arrangements. His Mom would have wanted him to have the house. The sister had even been disowned by the Mother but she’s the first one with her hand out. I have never seen such greed.

I’m very worried we wont be able to buy the house and that we will owe them back money that we dont have. Should we move? We are going to pay rent from the time she died until it is settled, or should we…? I dont know what to do. She had no will.

I also worry that the house wont sell for 200k in this market. Average Joe wont pay full price, but we are willing to buy it at 200k, buying them out by paying 2/3.

I appreciate your help.”

I am very sorry to hear about your situation.

Generally, contracts for the purchase, sale, or leasing of real property (like a house) are not enforceable if they are not written. These types of transactions fall under the statute of frauds. However, there are some facts in your case that may allow you to raise a defense called equitable estoppel which means you wouldn’t lose all your time and effort you put into rehabbing the home and would not be liable for back rent. Equitable estoppel may be appropriate here since you relied on the words of your relatives, and took action that everyone was aware of relying on those words that was to your detriment. However, this is a very complicated legal matter, and you should meet with an attorney who will be better able to help you with this.

Furthermore, since your mother-in-law didn’t have a will her estate will be handled by your state’s intestacy statutes and likely be divided up equally among her children and you would all be tenants in common of her house – meaning you all own an undivided 1/3 interest in the house. This means two things here: (1) cotenants cannot charge each other rent for use of the property, and (2) you can probably buy out the other siblings at the appraisal price. This is essentially the same effect as having the court force a sale and divvy up the proceeds. Finally, unless your mother charged rent while she was alive (owned the home) the siblings cannot come back later and demand rent be paid for use of the property by that time. Since there was no written agreement relating to your use of the home while she was alive, this is a matter that needs to be reviewed by an attorney. There are likely more issues to this matter, which is why it is best to speak with a qualified estate attorney as soon as you can.

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Author: House Attorney

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