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Siblings can request a forced sale of family lake house

Q: Six siblings inherited a lake house in 1986. It has been enjoyed by all families for years. Now, however, there is a need for extensive improvements. No one wants to put the money into it, but no one wants to see it go for taxes.

Four of the six want to sell the house and get their inheritance. One wants to buy it and give everyone her share; she would do all improvements and then allow it to be used by the others for vacations.

But one sibling won’t agree to sell his share. He verbally agreed to sell last September. Now he says he never said that.

Do you know what the options would be? Have you ever seen a situation where one sibling could be forced to sell? Everyone wants to see this resolved, and soon, as this has been going on for a couple of years.

— X

A: When it comes to the sale of real estate, verbal agreements are not enforceable.

Any co-owner of real property has the right to go to court and request a forced sale. One lawyer told me, “It’s like foreclosing on yourself.” The property is sold at an all-cash public auction, which is not likely to yield full value. Doing that won’t do much for family harmony.

In any event, it’s time to consult a lawyer. Perhaps a letter from a lawyer mentioning the possibility would persuade your holdout to reconsider. Or, in the interest of a more peaceful solution, you might contact a professional mediator.

Timeshare Again

Q: In 1985, my wife and I were wooed by an Orlando timeshare developer. He said his company was opening its latest timeshare only 15 minutes from Disney World. It would be a sure moneymaker; it could be easily rented and sold, and the company was opening a resale department. Years later, my wife and I divorced. We shared the timeshare costs and vacation weeks. This worked reasonably well until now. We are getting up in age and don’t travel anymore, and the costs are getting more difficult to pay each year. Plus, thinking ahead, we don’t want this millstone to pass to our children. (We have asked, and neither of them want it).

I see units offered for one dollar on E-bay and Craigslist, and even those aren’t moving. I asked whether I could just deed it back to the developer and was told, “We’ll get back to you.” (They haven’t.)

Online I found a place to take it, but they want approximately $4,000 upfront.

What is your advice? If we just stop paying, I suspect that will lead to a lawsuit. If we do nothing, this obligation will pass down to our children, a continued expense to them. There must be some escape here. Do we add “timeshares” to “death and taxes”?

— R. W.

A: First off, your heirs have the right to refuse an inheritance. Every state has its own paperwork for the process. I’m not sure what would become of the timeshare in that event, but for what it’s worth, they would have that right.

A timeshare should be bought for enjoyment, which you had, not as an investment. If you live in a different state, consult your lawyer about what’s likely to happen if you were to just stop paying the costs. If you live in Florida, talk with your lawyer anyhow. You might want to take a look at the Timeshare Users Group website to see whether it has any advice.

More on smokers

Q: I thought it unfortunate that a reader’s “last word” on the subject of secondhand smoke was a suggestion that the dwellers simply change apartments with the first-floor smokers.

Any nonsmoker knows that the smokers’ apartment will be deeply saturated with the odor. Floors, walls, cabinets — everything! Friends of ours bought a house a couple years ago from longtime smokers, and after intense remediation, the smell remained, albeit greatly reduced, for a good two years.

— M. B.

This next reader also pointed out what I had overlooked.

Q: I read your column every week and enjoy it very much. Keep up the good work. But I do not agree with you and the reader who suggested that the dwellers swap condos. You called it the “simplest solution yet,” but it wouldn’t work.

The condo the smokers live in would be full of the smoke stink — the walls, rugs, the whole interior. It would take a ton of repainting and cleaning to rid the condo of the smell. Swapping condos would be more work than letting a lawyer handle it.

— L. H.

Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at edithlank@aol.com or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.

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