Q: My sister is the trustee for my mother’s estate, which was held in trust. She also inherited the house my mother lived in. My brother also lived there for seven years as my mother’s caregiver. In February my sister transferred the house into her name, and in June she started eviction proceedings against my brother. He vacated in September. My brother and I just received notice that my sister is billing beneficiaries for household expenses: utilities, taxes, gardener, phone and an eviction attorney. Shouldn’t any house expenses after the home was recorded in her name be her responsibility?
A: Your sister inherited your mother’s house and all the costs that come with it, including the cost of evicting your brother. She is now responsible for paying for its upkeep, maintenance and anything else that comes with ownership. That’s the price of inheritance.
“If Momma gives you the house and she owes $200,000 on the house, for example, you don’t get to look at your siblings and say, ‘Now you got to pay me $200,000 so I get the house free and clear,’” said Brian Kabateck, a civil attorney based in Los Angeles. “That would be a ludicrous reaction.”
Your sister may be confusing her role as trustee with her inheritance. As the trustee, her job is to settle the estate, including paying off its debts. So, if your mother didn’t pay her mortgage the month before she died, that bill would be paid for by the estate. Same goes for any administrative fees, like legal expenses.
If the estate doesn’t have the resources to pay the debts, then the trustee might have to liquidate some assets to make the estate whole. But in no scenario would the beneficiaries be expected to dig into their own pockets to settle your mother’s debts, Mr. Kabateck said.
Write your sister, as the trustee, a letter explaining that you are not responsible for any expenses associated with her inherited asset. The eviction is a clear example of that: When your sister decided to evict her brother, she assumed responsibility for the fees associated with removing a tenant from a property she owns. That was her decision and is now her financial problem, not yours.
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