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My brother and I bought a rental property. I put in 75% of the money, and he put in 25%. For twenty years, we filed income taxes reflecting that 75%-25% ownership. But the deed just says "My Name and Brother's Name".

My brother's widow is now asserting that she owns 50%, saying that all that matters is what the deed says, not who paid how much. Is she correct, or is there a way to correct the deed now to reflect the correct ownership?

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    Is she disputing "we filed income taxes reflecting that 75%-25% ownership"? Or, does she agree that you had a 75/25 split, and simply doesn't care? – TTT Oct 12 at 17:20
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    Right, if the deed doesn't specify unequal ownership then equal ownership is assumed. The 20 years of history that reflect a 75:25 split should be enough to refute her claim in court. You should ask this on law.stackexchange.com state laws vary as well, so include the state. To correct it she would need to agree that you own 75%, she doesn't, so I'd imagine you're heading for a legal fight. – Hart CO Oct 12 at 17:32
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    @Dev1 what does she think that number on the tax return reflects then, if not ownership percentage? And, if your brother filed married-jointly, she may even have signed his tax returns. – TTT Oct 12 at 17:34
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    @HartCO "then equal ownership is assumed" I'm not sure this is true, or may be state-specific. In my experience it just means that both parties must consent to a sale (and on other legal matters) so "dual ownership" rather then "equal ownership". I don't think it means that each is entitled to half. I'd check with a lawyer, but might offer to buy her out for, say, 35%. Otherwise you could keep the property in both names indefinitely and she'd never see a dime. – D Stanley Oct 12 at 17:54
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    It's very likely that you took ownership as tenants in common, which can have unequal ownership, but you should check whether it's that or joint tenants. You may be able to see it if you look at the county's tax assessor's website. – mkennedy Oct 12 at 22:03
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You need a lawyer. Stop reading answers on the internet and go get one now.

Even if you found a completely correct answer right here and now, you are going to need a lawyer to execute it, so cut out the middle man.

The straightforward answer is that if you don't have a written agreement stating the fractional share it will take some legal arguing to prove it.

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    I disagree with the last sentence. To me, 20 years of tax returns signed by both parties seems like a no-brainer for proof. – TTT Oct 12 at 18:23
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    "evidence" but not "proof". Who's to say there's not a verbal agreement that the parties split the revenue 45/55 but the property tax 75/25 (perhaps for tax deduction purposes)? I agree with the answer in whole that "You Need A Lawyer". – D Stanley Oct 12 at 18:26
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    I too feel that the final sentence is, basically, incorrect. (A) any number of major legal decisions go down on verbal agreements and (B) there appears to be massive, overwhelming evidence supporting the agreement. – Fattie Oct 12 at 18:32
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    @DStanley In this case, at least, my brother's widow doesn't dispute that the purchase, taxes, and expenses were all split 75%/25%. She just claims that those things don't determine percentage of ownership. – Dev1 Oct 12 at 20:53
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I'm going to restate your situation for clarity (gathered from the question and comments). Your sister-in-law seems to be basically saying this to you:

I know you and my late husband agreed to a 75/25 split when you purchased the property, and I know you both continued with that split for 20 years, and I know you filed your federal tax returns with that split too. But, guess what? You messed up. Since you didn't put the 75/25 split on the deed I'm technically entitled to 50% of the property instead of just 25%. So, now you must give me what's (un)rightfully mine.

This is unfortunate, as it means your relationship is tainted and probably not salvageable. I think you have every right to respond this way:

I'm not giving up 25% ownership just because you want it. If you want to sue me and take me to court, go ahead. I'll bring all of the documents from the sale and our tax returns which clearly show the 75/25 split, and let the judge decide if you should be given 50%.

My guess is when faced with this option she'll stop grasping at straws. Of course, if she does sue you, you'll probably need an attorney if the amount of money at stake is worth the fight.

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    Dude, who cares about relationships when some fool is trying to steal 33% of your money! – Fattie Oct 12 at 18:27
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    More seriously you should not admit in a text that you are "wrong on a technicality". – Fattie Oct 12 at 18:30
  • @Fattie hehe. And good point. I edited the response based on your suggestion. – TTT Oct 12 at 19:05
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OP, she says:

"As for the 25% vs. 75% on your past taxes, that does not reflect ownership. It is the deed which reflects ownership and you own half "

Simply reply by email:

"Deed polls do not specify percentage ownership, they list all the owners."

And then ghost her.

It is not even a "So sue me" situation,

where you would say to her "If you don't agree, sue me."

Just text back "Deed polls do not specify percentage ownership" and then ghost her.

DO NOT...

  • try to explain what does specify percentage ownership

  • remind her that her own tax filings for 20 years specify percentage ownership

  • explain that the original two payments absolutely specify percentage ownership

Say or do nothing.

Text back "Deed polls do not specify percentage ownership" and then ghost her.

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  • If someone has foolishly and naively downvoted this thinking it was a joke answer, no, it is the correct thing to say/do in preparation for a legal battle. – Fattie Oct 12 at 18:31

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