Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I read your answers about a squatter’s rights case. I have a similar situation. My sister, 48, has been living with my parents for 16 years. She hasn’t worked due to health issues. Last year, both of my folks passed away with no will and I am left to administer the estate. I’m trying to sell the property and divide the proceeds with my sister, but she refuses to move out, so I really don’t know what to do next. I have no intention of letting her live there forever. The house is paid off.
— Angela C.
Your case is less an adverse possession (squatter’s rights) case and more an estate matter.
It sounds as though you may have been named the estate manager by the court, so you are technically manager of the property. Unless your sister is listed on the deed as an owner, which I doubt, she is essentially a month-to-month tenant — or “tenant at sufferance” — who has lived on the premises at the wishes of the now-deceased. So as estate manager, you may be within your right to try to evict her by serving her with a 30-day notice to quit, followed by an unlawful-detainer complaint, if that initial eviction effort is unsuccessful. And you may succeed.
However, realize she could probably petition the probate court to allow her to stay until the home gets sold, and will probably be granted that if she is not impeding the sales process. But if she is considered disabled from the health issues you mentioned, you probably can’t force her to leave. Only an attorney can walk you through all the nuances of your state’s laws and probate rules.
In the meantime, though, here are a few things to ponder before you do see an attorney or butt heads with your sister in a potentially ugly eviction attempt. Is she scuttling your efforts to repair or market the house in any way? Does she use drugs there or have disreputable people over to the house who may wreak havoc on it? That would work against her in a hearing.
Can she pay her part of the utilities and other household expenses while she stays? If not, you may be able to set up an arrangement where you will be compensated for any expense incurred while she remains there drawn out of her share of the proceeds from the home sale. Also, was there any kind of written promise from your parents about her fate at the house once they had passed on?
Another consideration: If your sister is indeed on disability, you or your attorney may have to work with various state programs to properly place her somewhere and structure the sale of the house so any income she receives doesn’t jeopardize those benefits.
While your sister may very well be something of a deadbeat with an entitlement mentality who may actually be able to work, the situation calls for a more civil solution than eviction.
So put your resentment aside and go as gently into that good night as you can. Ideally, you will enlist the services of an estate attorney who is experienced in family law as well.
Good luck, sis.
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