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I would like some advice on property allocation between siblings and parents. We all live in England. I have a sibling whom I love very much. We both get along with our parents who are divorced. We have seen families being broken apart from inheritance and properties and we, as a family, strategise together so that no-one ends up being treated poorly.

My father has a property ("A") and my mother has a property ("B").

Property "A" requires some payments so that it's made whole so it could be sold or developed further. It is a single house around 400 sqm. Our father has not made clear whether or not he will bear that cost.

Property "B" has an outstanding mortgage that our mother will NOT be able to pay off in her time / with her pension. The property includes the ground floor which is fine (where our mother lives) and the top floor which is in the process of being made into an 150 sqm apartment. This was the reason for the mortgage. The mortgage did not suffice for the full development of the top-floor and it is now half-way habitable - so there exists a need for an investment of say 20k gbp on top of the mortgage. This top-floor could well supplement one's income if completed asap.

The agreement that exists currently is the following: I will get property A and my sibling will get property B in due time.

Once it is needed, either my sibling or me can ask for a professional valuation of both properties subtracting any direct costs (like the outstanding balance on the mortgage for property B or the cost of making property A whole). Any differential one sibling will have to pay to the other.

Is this the best approach?

I am adamant that I want to be fair to myself and my sibling.

What other course of action / strategy should I pursue?

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    Seems like you expect to inherit the properties at the same time? What happens if your father passes away 15 years later than your mother? I think you should agree that each property should be valued regardless, once it is time to inherit. Then if your sibling is to have property B then they will pay you 50% of what it is worth - then when proptery A is to be inherited, you pay 50% of that value to your sibling. Or the other way around depending on when you are to inherit each property. – ssn Aug 30 '17 at 13:22
  • Not really inherit - even though I use the term inherit, I essentially mean being transferred over to either of us at some point – J. Doe. Aug 30 '17 at 13:27
  • Roughly how much are the properties worth? Is inheritance tax likely to be an issue? – Mike Scott Aug 30 '17 at 18:40
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    Just sell them up, take the cash, and split it 5050. It's always best. you can each invest as you wish in something else. – Fattie Aug 30 '17 at 20:07
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To me you guys are opening yourselves up to all kinds of hurt feelings and possible disputes over fair valuations.

If it was me, I would leave each child 50% of each property. At the time of death, a determination could be made on what to do with the property. Should it be fixed up and sold, sold as is, or perhaps one party could buy out the other party. I would not recommend entering into a joint ownership for a long term basis.

From what I am reading transfer of property is the same thing as inheritance if it occurs within 7 years of death. I assume the benefit of transfer is avoiding estate taxes. However, this opens up all kinds of problems. What happens if you transfer a property to a child and that child dies prior to the parents? Then that child's heirs could forcibly remove the parent from the property.

All I can say is the estate tax laws in the UK are horrible!

  • I am only accepting this response because it is the most clear-cut in a somewhat messy setup. – J. Doe. Sep 1 '17 at 10:46
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I am assuming since they are divorced that their property is not under any joint ownership.

My opinion is this:

Each of your parents should divide their own property as they individually see fit.

Your mom should not plan her estate based on your dad's property, since she has no control or authority over his property. Same goes for your dad. Treating each estate properly (separately) is the best way to do this and avoid complications later.

Also, I applaud your attitude in the situation, but it is not relevant to the fairness of the outcome. They could give you nothing (or everything) and that would be fair. It is their property to give.

  • You are correct that the OP technically has no control over what happens, but it seems that this is something both parents have already discussed and tentatively agreed on: "The agreement that exists currently is the following: I will get property A and my sibling will get property B in due time." Therefore the questions surrounding whether the approach is valid/'fair' seems to be fine in that context. – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Aug 30 '17 at 18:43
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    @Grade'Eh'Bacon The main point is that the prospect of ‘fairness’ should be evaluated from the perspective of each estate, not the perspective of each heir. If mom thinks both kids should get equal portions, she should do that for her estate. Having the heirs try to adjust each estate based on total inheritance is going to invite problems. Legally (and ethically IMO) if something catastrophic happens and dad’s estate is worth $0, this agreement is still ‘fair’. If the parents want to guard against that possibility, they should each divide up their own estate as such. – jkuz Aug 30 '17 at 19:36
  • this is why non-liquid assets such as buildings, totally suck. – Fattie Aug 30 '17 at 20:09
  • This is a great answer. What happens if mother dies and gifts her property to son as planned. Father remarries, and after living together with new wife for ten years decides to write the new wife into his will somehow? Maybe giving the new wife a share of his assets, maybe giving her the ability to live in his house rent free until she dies. Then daughter, who was supposed to get Father's house, gets less than expected. – AndyT Aug 31 '17 at 10:15
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The simplest way to be sure of fairness is to just sell the properties and split the proceeds. There are of course potential problems with that: closing costs, sentimental attachment, information asymmetry, etc. The way to deal with that possibility is with the following condition: either person can present the other with a price and require the other to buy or sell at that price (or possibly plus or minus some agreed upon spread). To be clear, the first person decides on the price, the second person gets to decide whether to buy or sell. So, let's say you get the property appraised for 100,000, and your sibling gets an appraisal for 120,000. If you think that either appraisal is just as likely to be right, you can propose a 110,000 valuation. But if you're absolutely convinced that your appraisal is correct, and your sibling is absolutely convinced their appraisal is right, the way to settle it is to say "Okay, if you're convinced that it's worth 120,000, then you should be willing to buy my half for 50,000". If you sibling doesn't have 50,000, and can't get a loan for it, then you should be able to put the property on the market. Conversely, your sibling should have the right to demand that you sell your half for 60,000. This makes it in both party's interest to get the best appraisal number they can: if you had found a really bad appraiser who gave a value of 160,000 and you had presented that price to your sibling, your sibling could then say "That's too high. Instead of buying your half for 80,000, I'm going to sell my half for 80,000". There are still possibilities for hurt feelings, but it should be minimized.

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I have no commentary (due to lack of knowledge) about UK estate / gift tax laws. However I will say you are approaching this in what seems to be the correct way:

  1. Get everything in writing.

    This is especially important if your parents are no longer together [which appears to be the case here], as a misunderstanding between them [ex: your father gives you each 50% of his property, your mother gives her property in full just to you] will cause problems.

  2. At some point, use independent appraisers.

    Without them, everyone involved bears the risk of emotional attachment overriding real economic value. As harsh as it sounds, turning everything into dollars and cents (or... pounds & p?) is often the best way to take emotion out of it. You don't want grievances over the economics of inheritance to come between emotional support necessary at the point of moving on [either when a parent passes away, or even just when they move to a retirement home].

But there is one other thing you may want to consider as well:

  1. Allow for a lot of flexibility in 'evening out' the 'inheritance'.

    You suggest that there will be a provision to allow for an appraisal to be done, and that one sibling will pay the other. With no other guidance, that may put one sibling in the awkward position of being cash-strapped and unable to pay the other sibling. For example if one property is worth 100k more than the other, will the sibling with the more expensive property have to sell it just to make the 50k payment to the other? You could attempt to solve this by allowing for a loan to be created and repaid over a set period of time at a market interest rate.

On a related note, be careful if one property really is worth many times what the other one is. Often individuals creating estates have an emotional reason to want one child to inherit a specific thing ("he always loved the cabin more - he should get it") - even if the cash evens things out, this sort of differential can create a rift between siblings. In your case, if each of you and your sibling have your own connections to each specific property, that might sort itself out, but I recommend you consider Pete's example to have each of you just inherit 50% of each property. You could still have what are called 'shotgun clauses' which state that at any time, one of you could make an offer to buy 100% of the property, at which point the other sibling has the choice to either buy it themselves, or sell it to you.

None of this is conclusive, I know, but I hope it helps. Based on the complexity here as well as possible estate and gift tax considerations, I think you should consider your options some more and then present them to a lawyer, hired by all of you collectively [or, a lawyer hired by each of you individually, but not a lawyer just hired by one of you]. Professional guidance will help everyone understand that a best effort at 'fairness' was made, and this will hopefully limit any possible infighting.

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I can tell you straight off the bat there is only one way to 100% make sure you avoid being torn apart by these types of situations: you have to be prepared to stomach unfair treatment without breaking sweat.

Many strategies based around some kind of completely ‘fair’ split fall down for a variety of reasons. You are making payments off of a valuation that might not be real (particularly with houses: the disconnect between what experts claim a house is worth and what it can actually be sold for is a chasm). What happens when one party makes a large differential payment at the start of the year based on this value, is forced to sell within a few months and can only get half the quoted price? Are you going to rebate them? What if it doubles in value?

It is often the simmering, small injustices that ruin relationships, not just the big ticket items.

Even in the case of something like a ‘sell both and split all the money’ strategy you can rip your family to bits if they are sentimentally attached to it and you are not and you force the sale of one of their most prized things. What if one party is desperate for cash and wants a fast sale at a lower price? What if one has an unreasonable expectation for price and it sits on the market for years? There are a myriad of things that make these types of agreements fall down fast when it comes to actually executing them.

The single best strategy with all inheritance is to not count on it, stay stoical if you do feel you are being taken advantage of and keep family first. Money and things can be replaced. They can’t.

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    Do you have any professional experience with inheritance? Because in my experience, infighting is created most when parents avoid being rigorous with their estate plan, under the assumption that "our kids love each other - they would never fight over what's fair!". Using your argument, it can be very difficult to determine what's fair; putting that difficulty onto the heads of the children when parents pass away is exactly what causes them to turn on each other when they are already emotionally grieving. – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Aug 30 '17 at 14:59
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    Yep, this is a fair critique and while I've been through a few cycles personally I’m a long way off the knowledge of someone seeing hundreds of cases a year etc. I’d also agree a plan of some kind is essential for the best outcome: Just that being prepared for it to be potentially difficult/unfair regardless of the plan is something it is more important to be able to deal with and be prepared for. – Philip Aug 30 '17 at 15:49

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