How Sibling Inheritance Laws Can Affect Selling an Estate

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How Sibling Inheritance Laws Can Affect Selling an Estate


When a parent passes away, there’s a lot to figure out. You have to make funeral arrangements, find out if they had an estate plan, and work through the legalities of settling an estate. And unless you’re an only child, you’ll have to navigate this entire process with your siblings. You’ll have to determine which parts of the estate belong to your brothers and sisters and which belong to you.

To help with determining how assets are distributed, there are laws regarding sibling inheritance. Their purpose is to protect what’s rightfully yours through the succession of the estate while also preserving the rights of your siblings. In this article, we’ll talk about a few scenarios where sibling inheritance laws might affect how you settle a family member’s estate.

When There’s a Will

If your parent or loved one left a last will and testament, then the entire process of settling the estate should be fairly straightforward. They will have named how they want their assets divided and to whom each share of their estate or equity should go. However, this doesn’t always mean you can avoid working with your siblings.

In community property states, if there’s a surviving spouse, they’re entitled to half the estate no matter what. This means you and your siblings will be dividing the other half among yourselves. Typically, the law requires that all siblings have equal shares of the remainder of the estate equally unless otherwise stated in the will.

Remember that a valid will is a legal document and must be carried out as written. There are often disputes within families about the size of shares among full siblings, half siblings, and the type of children. Inheritance laws state that any biological or adopted child of the deceased parent is entitled to an inheritance. The only group not automatically entitled to a portion of the estate are stepchildren who were not adopted.

Understanding Intestate Succession

Unfortunately, not every succession has a will to guide the process, so it’s also important to understand what happens when an estate must be settled in probate court. The probate process relies on intestate succession laws to make decisions, which are just your state’s laws on inheritance.

Although there are some minor differences, most states approach inheritance rights with the same order of intestate succession: 

  1. Surviving spouse
  2. Domestic partner
  3. Biological children
  4. Adopted children 

Assets and equity will be passed down to family members in this order in equal shares, unless you’re in a community property state as mentioned above.

Intestacy laws are also used when there’s a dispute to a will or the way the estate is being settled. For example, a half-sibling might think they’re entitled to the same share as a full sibling although the court has only awarded them a fraction. In this case, it’s wise to hire a probate lawyer who can argue your case in court.

Selling a Jointly Inherited Estate

Inheriting equal shares of an estate might sound simple enough, but when you and your three siblings all inherit a portion of a single piece of real estate, things can get tricky. One sibling might want to sell, the other might want to move in, and the third might want to use it as a rental property. But because you’re all co-owners, you can’t move forward until everyone agrees to a plan.

If you know there will be trouble in your family when it comes time to decide what to do with a deceased parent’s home (or even the entire estate), you might want to consider hiring a beneficiary lawyer to represent your interests and protect your rights. Having legal representation will keep you out of direct arguments with family members, which can help to preserve your relationship with them after the estate is settled.

You and your lawyer, if you choose to work with one, can take a couple of different approaches to settle disputes among your siblings.

  • Divide things up. If you’ve inherited land, then you might be able to divide up the inheritance so each sibling owns a separate property. Then, you can do what you want with your parcel, and they can do what they want with theirs. 
  • Buyout. You can offer to let your siblings buy out your portion of ownership. This ensures you get the money you’re entitled to but does take you out of any future sale profits. Once a sibling buys out your portion, they’ll gain control of your share in the house and you won’t have any say in what happens moving forward.
  • Private arrangement. This still requires everyone to come to an agreement but involves some negotiating to help find a common ground. Sometimes sitting down with your siblings to decide how ownership can be divided or a plan for the use of the property is a good way to solve differences of opinion without needing to go to court.  

It’s important to note that when a property is jointly owned, no one person can force a sale without the other owners’ consent. If there’s one person in disagreement who won’t budge their opinion, the only way to sell without their agreement is through a partition action. This is a court order that legally removes an inherited owner. You would have to file with the court and wait for a judge to rule on your request.

Contention is not always the case, though. If all of your siblings agree to sell the estate, then the process works similarly to how it would with a will. After the sale, each person gets an equal payout and the matter is settled.

How Auctions Can Help

Auctions can help families sell an entire estate at once so they don’t have to go through the trouble of trying to divide assets and sell the property together. After everyone agrees to sell, you can list the house, land, and assets all together in an auction. It’s the best way to get a fair market value for your inherited property and a quicker route than selling things individually.

If you and your siblings need help selling your inherited property, give us a call. We’d be happy to manage the process for you.