Can a sibling be granted a greater share of an asset if they have been paying for it and maintaining it?

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Can a sibling be granted a greater share of an asset if they have been paying for it and maintaining it?

My great-grandmother passed away with no Will. My grandmother has been making the payments on the house ever since her mother passed away almost 8 years ago. My grandmother has 3 other brothers but she wants to sell the house and keep the money since she’s the 1 making all the payments. I know that succession gives all the siblings an equal share, but can my grandmother make a case that she deserves it all since she’s been taking care of it and paying for it?

Asked on November 26, 2010 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

Scott K. Zimmerman / Law Office of Scott K. Zimmerman

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The above response is a correct statement of the law in California. 

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

I"m afraid that's not how it works.  Absent an agreement to reimburse her for this expense, she is not entitled to it or to a greater share of the house for that matter.  While it seems unfair, that's the law.  All 4 of them jointly hold an ownership interest in the house and 1 co-owner cannot obtain a greater share than the other(s) without the written consent of the others.  She'll just have to look at the money that she paid as a form of rent.  Unless of course, her brothers want to do something different out of fairness.

Note:  If your grandmother was in some way duped into making these payments, either intentionally or by mistake, then a court may elect to have your grandmother reimbursed for these payments by employing the equitable remedy of "unjust enrichment".  In other words, the other owners should not unjustly benefit from her paying the mortgage all of those years.  However, absent some sort of mistake or deceit on the part of her co-owners, such a remedy will not be applied.


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