Know the Law: Joint Property Dispute

Andrew R. Hamilton
Associate, Litigation Department
Published: Union Leader
January 9, 2022

Q: My siblings and I recently lost our parents. Under the will, we each received an equal interest in the family vacation home. We have always had a strained relationship, but now with COVID-19, and everyone wanting to use the home, it is nearly impossible to share the home without fighting. What can we do?

A: In this situation, a visitation schedule may help. You and your siblings should sit down with a calendar and decide which weeks each sibling can use the home and formalize your agreement in writing, signed by everyone. In your plan, you should consider rotating use of the home on certain holidays, so that each sibling can use the home on a major holiday each year, but the particular holiday changes annually. The more specific, the better. You may want to consider such specifics as: the hour everyone has to vacate at the end of the week; how trash will be removed; how packages delivered to the home will be stored, etc. You should also consider enlisting a trusted accountant to manage the finances of the property.

If you and your siblings cannot reach an agreement, you may want to get out of the situation. You may ask one or both of your siblings to buy out your share. Alternatively, you may ask to buy out your siblings’ shares. In either case, you need to know the fair market value of the home, and should enlist the help of an appraiser.

Finally, you may want to consider a judicial partition of the property. In such a case, a judge has the power to divide the property, awarding pieces of the property to you and your siblings. Alternatively, if the judge cannot physically divide the property without significant prejudice or inconvenience, he/she may order one of you to purchase the others’ interests, or order a sale of the whole property and a division of the proceeds among you. In either case, be aware that the division may not be equal. The judge will instead make an “equitable division,” based upon a number of factors, including: the parties’ maintenance, repair and improvement of the property; the amount of time the parties occupied the property and the nature of their use; the parties’ respective contributions to the property; and any damage or detriment caused to the property by the parties. A trusted attorney can help walk you through this process.

Andrew Hamilton can be reached at [email protected].

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton. Questions and ideas for future columns should be emailed to [email protected] Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.