Inheritance – Selling The Family Home

Posted: Saturday July 16 2016

By: Abbie Coleman

How to Avoid Friction When Children Come to Sell the Family Home

Tasoula Addison, Wills and Inheritance Solicitor

An increasing number of siblings are falling out when their parents have passed away and it comes to sorting out the estate that has been left behind. Sorting out a deceased’s estate is the job of an executor who has been named in a Will. In the majority of instances, parents leave this role to one of their children or a number of them, however, it isn’t all plain sailing. We have noticed a rise in the number of disputes between executors, not about the actual terms of the Will, but they are disputing the way in which they administer the estate. If there is more than one executor then they must agree on how this happens.

Examples of disputes between siblings include:

  • Which solicitor to use
  • Which estate agent to use
  • Whether to clear out the property before selling or leave it furnished
  • The timing of administering the estate

Dealing with the Family Home

One of the most regularly disputed and contentious areas is when it comes to dealing with the family home. For obvious reasons, the family home is a highly emotive asset of the estate as it is often the property in which the children have grown up in.

For this reason there are often disputes where one child wishes to keep the property and either live in it or rent it out, whereas others want to sell the property and put it on the open market. If one sibling wants to buy the other children out of the property, it can often be very difficult to agree on a value. Family homes are often ram-packed with items of great sentimental value, family mementos, photographs and other heirlooms. Rifts often occur over items that have very little financial value.

I personally have dealt with a case where thousands of pounds in legal fees were spent in disputing who should get to keep family albums, despite the fact that the photographs could have been copied for both parties. Both parties felt that they should have the original albums, and refused to accept a copy of the photographs in the albums. It was only the spiralling legal fees that eventually led one of the parties to back down.

How to Avoid a Feuding Situation

As a parent the last thing you want is your children bickering and falling out over the estate you have left behind for them. From my experience there are a few ways in which you can help to avoid this situation:

  • If your children don’t get on, don’t appoint them as executors. Instead you can appoint just one or two children as your executors, if appropriate, a professional executor or an independent third party. The key is that if you’re appointing more than one executor, they need to get on.
  • Discuss your wishes and how you would like things to be dealt after your death with your children. This helps by allowing your children to raise any concerns whilst you are still there to mediate. Emotions can make people act in uncharacteristic ways after the loss of a parent, but by ironing out any issues beforehand you will leave your children in the best position to deal with things rationally.
  • If one of your children is likely to want to buy the house, make sure your Will includes an option for them to do this, and that it includes a clear basis for how the property should be valued – to avoid disputes.
  • Make sure you are clear on what you want to happen to your personal chattels, particularly any family heirlooms or sentimental items. The best thing you can do is talk to your children about this, preferably all together as a family, so there are no surprises following your death. You can also include a detailed letter of wishes alongside your Will, setting out who you want to receive what, or just give the items to your children during your lifetime – that way you know the items have gone to the right person.