December 1, 2023
We have written before about the importance of “getting it in writing”. Did you know it even applies to families?
As long as things are friendly and going smoothly, no one thinks they need an agreement. But if things turn argumentative, a written agreement will help resolve the disagreement. Even if you end up in court, interpreting the document is a much faster and less costly option than a full-blown trial in which witnesses having varying recollections of the deal- often self serving- and may deny that there ever was a deal.
Sidhu v. Sidhu is nothing special to anybody but the parties involved, which makes it a good example. The case makes no new law and is essentially totally fact driven. The tough part for the judge is the fact finding. Everyone has their own version of events.
The basic story was simple. A multi-generational family sharing a house. This continued even after the eldest son married, and had children of his own. Further complicating the facts, son and his wife operated a business out of the home.
Over the years, son and his wife contributed to the home upkeep and the bills, as did his brothers. One thing everybody agreed upon was that they maintained a “family account” into which everybody paid money and from which the son paid the household expenses. Unfortunately, he kept poor records of who contributed how much, and even what it was spent on.
Title remained in Mom’s name, until son’s wife was given a 1% interest, apparently for mortgage purposes. However, no one could agree why that was done, whether it was just a “legal title” with Mom still beneficially owning 100%, or whether this supported son’s position, which was that he ought to receive 50% of the house proceeds.
Faced by this mess of conflicting evidence, the judge determined that the parties all benefitted from the living arrangements, and that they did not ever agree or intend that the son and his wife would have an interest in the home when Mom was still alive. The judge comments that perhaps son and wife might have a claim that they expected to be left the house in Mom’s will, but Mom was still alive when the house was sold.
Because everybody benefitted from the arrangement, there was no unjust enrichment, which would require that one party (Mom) have received a benefit at the expense of the other (son and daughter). Since everybody benefitted, no enrichment. Son and daughter’s payments could be seen as having been in lieu of rent.
Since wife did not pay anything for her 1% share, that was found to be held in trust for Mom.
Though Mom likely recovered some costs of the lawsuit, she would not be fully indemnified for her costs, or for her time and stress.
The moral of this story is that when it comes to property, even involving family members, get it in writing so that if there is a falling out the bitterness is not added to through expensive litigation.
WHAT WEILERS LLP CAN DO TO HELP YOU
The real estate lawyers at Weilers LLP are adept at helping clients record the deal in a document that reduces the potential for future conflict. If conflict is inevitable, our litigation team has the experience and skills to bring the litigation to a conclusion in the least painful and expensive fashion possible.
So if you need to get it in writing, or need advocacy after the fact, call us. Weilers LLP might be the right lawyers for you.