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Inheriting A House With A Sibling: A Guide

Katie Ziraldo6-minute read

April 27, 2021

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We live in an imperfect world, which means siblings rarely agree on everything. Couple that with the emotional toll of losing a loved one, and tensions may run even higher than normal.

Inheriting a home can be a blessing, but when you’re inheriting that home with a sibling, it can also create some difficult emotional terrain which can lead to both financial and emotional stress for everyone involved.

Unless the will explicitly states otherwise, inheriting a house with siblings means that ownership of the property is distributed equally. The siblings can negotiate whether the house will be sold and the profits divided, whether one will buy out the others’ shares, or whether ownership will continue to be shared.

In this article, we’ll explore the legal ramifications of co-owning property and share our tips to make the process enjoyable and equitable for you and your sibling. So, let’s dive in!

Using A Partition Suit To Resolve A Conflict

Involving the court is a last resort for most, but if you and your sibling cannot reach an agreement on what to do with the property, a partition suit may be needed. Partition lawsuits ask the judge to order the home’s sale in order to terminate the co-ownership – but the process is rarely that simple.

Typically, the judge will require a mediator, referred to in these scenarios as a “referee,” to mitigate conflicts between the co-owners. This referee is an additional expense on top of what you will already have to pay a real estate agent to sell the home, and you may even need an accountant to divvy up the proceeds, which can seriously limit your profits.

To avoid these extra costs, try to settle any conflicts with your sibling on your own by using the following avenues.

Sharing Ownership Of The Home

Your first thought upon inheriting a home may be to decide which sibling will remain in ownership – but sharing ownership is possible and can even be enjoyable when the details are properly negotiated.

Joint Tenancy Vs. Tenancy In Common

If you’ve decided to continue sharing ownership of the home, you will need to discover the terms under which the house has been left and understand the key differences between tenancy in common and joint tenancy. It’s possible to alter the terms of your ownership to either of these options, so it’s important to know the facts to decide which structure is best for you.

When the title is held as tenants in common, each owner possesses interest in the property, which can be divided equally or unequally. Even if one person owns a higher percentage of the property, all owners have a claim – meaning no one individual can claim ownership over it. Each owner is able to sell or transfer their share in the property to another person without needing their co-owner’s approval, and if a co-owner passes away, their interest is automatically passed to their heirs.

On the other hand, joint tenancy means that all co-owners possess an equal amount of interest in the property, and that ownership cannot be passed down to heirs because in the event of a co-owner’s death, their share of ownership is automatically passed to the surviving co-owner. Shares in the property cannot be sold without the consent of all co-owners.

Like tenancy in common, joint tenancy allows you to transfer your shares to another person – however, when this happens, that person is unable to enter the joint tenancy, and is instead entered into a tenancy in common ownership structure with the remaining co-owner, terminating the joint tenancy.

Renting And Splitting The Profits

If neither sibling wants to sell the home, renting it out could be a positive, profitable approach for everyone involved. In fact, it could even be possible for one or both siblings to live in the house alongside any renters.

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Structuring A Buyout

Most properties are inherited evenly, so unless otherwise stated, you and your sibling likely have 50/50 ownership of the home. If one sibling wants to buy out the other, this means they would need to finance half of the home’s value. The most important part of this process is having a fair home appraisal, otherwise known as a property valuation, which will determine how much the home is worth and therefore how much you would need to pay to buy out your co-owner. Once the home’s value is determined, you can pay your sibling for their share and transfer the deed into your name.

Can You Refinance To Buy Out Other Inheritors?

Conventional lenders typically don’t offer this type of refinancing – but hard money lenders are also an option. A hard money loan is a short-term loan provided by a nontraditional lender, such as individuals and private companies, that accept property or an asset as collateral.

These loans typically have a fast, less-strict approval process that makes them a convenient option for people who need to move quickly. But like traditional mortgages, keep in mind that your property is held as collateral on the loan, which means defaulting may result in the lender taking ownership of the home.

Selling And Dividing The Profits

If you and your sibling have agreed to sell the home, the next step is a professional appraisal to determine its value, which will be crucial when it comes time to divide the profits of the sale.

You must also determine who in or outside of your family will have the right of first refusal. The right of first refusal is a clause in a lease or contract that allows the holder to transact with other contracting parties before anyone else can.

More simply put, this would mean an interested buyer has the indisputable right to be the first party to put an offer on the property when it’s listed on the market. And if another party also expresses interest, this buyer has the option to purchase the property over the other interested party or to decline the opportunity and allow the seller to consider other offers.

Will I Have To Pay The Capital Gains Tax?

Capital gains tax is something you must pay when you sell an asset that has increased in value since the time you bought it. This means if you sell your home quickly enough after inheriting it, you may not need to pay capital gains tax, as the home’s value should not have changed.

Tips For Sharing A Vacation Home

Sharing a vacation home opens a unique set of issues that typically don’t apply with a primary residence. The main considerations are the more common desire for multiple people to use this property, irregular visits from multiple parties, and questions of whether it should be rented out to others.

Although they are not required actions, the sections below represent the possible steps you could take to make sharing a vacation home as simple as possible.

Consider Creating An Expense Account

As co-owners, each sibling is responsible for their share of the property expenses. Although it’s not always a necessity, creating an expense account can be a good way to ensure all co-owners are contributing equally for any maintenance, improvements or renovations on the home. An expense account will also help you track your money and stay organized, particularly if you’re receiving income on the home through renters.

Consider Hiring A Property Manager

This may be an especially attractive option for those who don’t live near the property. Having a dedicated property manager means having one individual in charge of upkeep, repairs and communicating with renters, if applicable. The expense of the property manager is typically split between the siblings.

Consider Creating A Governance Board

This option is mostly relevant if there are multiple, ever-expanding stakes in the property via heirs. For example, if two siblings share equal ownership of the property and both siblings have two children of their own that they plan to gift their shares, the next generation will split the ownership four ways. And the more co-owners there are, the more potential there is for disagreements on what to do with the property. Creating a governance board – which functions similarly to a condo board – can streamline decision making and take the pressure off the family.

General Tips To Navigate The Process

It’s no secret that siblings don’t always see eye to eye. Even if you think you and your sibling are on the same page about your inherited property, it’s possible for one person to change their mind and throw a wrench in the plan. To avoid bumps in the road – and to keep your relationship with your sibling as positive as possible – we recommend using the following tips:

  • Document all agreements on paper
  • Consult with a lawyer and other professionals
  • Consult with friends who can give you a sympathetic ear and objective advice
  • If something gets your emotions running high, take some time to cool off and come back to the conversation ready to negotiate

The Bottom Line

Inherited homes often come with a lot of sentimental value – which may lead to siblings disagreeing on what to do with the property. If you’ve recently inherited a house with your sibling, it’s important to understand your options so you can advocate for the well-being of everyone involved.

If you’re interested in selling a house, learn more in our Learning Center and take control of your options.

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Katie Ziraldo

Katie Ziraldo is a writer focused on financial learning for current and future homeowners. She found her love of writing through her experience working with various newspapers, such as the Detroit Free Press. Her financial literacy stems from her four years as a Recruiter, when she learned the details of every role in the mortgage process. As a writer, she uses that knowledge to create relevant content for homeowners to help them reach their goals.