When you, alone, inherit property from your parents while your other siblings don’t get any, you might naturally wonder if your brother can sue you for your inheritance.
Any person can sue. The question is whether they have a strong case against you. Each case has its own unique circumstances, and one legal advice will not fit all. A lawyer will always attempt to learn all the relevant circumstances of your case and base his legal opinion on the totality of circumstances.
Whether your brother can sue you for your inheritance is a vague question. Is your brother suing you for taking property from the estate after your parent’s death? Or is your brother suing you for receiving something before your parents died? Based on our experience, the latter is the more common issue among family members. The parent transferred the house to one of the siblings prior to death, leaving nothing to be divided among the other siblings after death, either intestate or through will.
Suing you for inherited property transferred prior to your parent’s death
When you inherited property prior to the death of your parents, this is usually considered an inter vivos transfer, a transfer during the lifetime of your parent. In these cases, it is important to know the circumstances of the transfer to know whether there is legal basis to sue you for receiving an inheritance, to the exclusion of your other siblings.
Most title transfers made during the lifetime of the parent to another family member are above board, even when there is no consideration. Usually, these transfers are made because such family member is the one taking care of the parent, or they both live together in the same house. However, an unhappy sibling who has been left out may claim that that the transfer was invalid because of fraud, undue influence, misrepresentation, forgery, or other valid ground. Proving this ground, however, requires evidence, which may be difficult and expensive to discover.
The most common ground to invalidate the transfer is a combination of undue influence, fraud, and misrepresentation. This is proven by discovering the medical records of the grantor to see the type of medication the grantor was taking at the time the deed was executed and the grantor’s over-all medical condition. When the grantor is physically weak, the possibility of undue influence is higher with a higher probability that fraud or misrepresentation was used regarding the transaction.
There can be nuances to your situation. For example, your parent transferred to you property, and a few years after transferring to you the property, executed a will specifically leaving the house to all of the siblings. This raises the question of whether: (a) the parent, as grantor, was aware of the transfer of the property to you; or (b) the parent, as testator, was at the right mental capacity to know that the property he was attempting to dispose of via will had already been transferred to you.
An estate attorney will be able to help further analyze your situation in this case.
Suing you for property you took after your parent’s death
If you received property from your parents after their death through a valid will that has been admitted to probate, your brother cannot sue you for your inheritance. He can only contest the will (prior to it being admitted to probate) using almost the same grounds as contesting the deed: forgery, fraud, undue influence, misrepresentation.
If you took property after your parent’s death, i.e., taking money from the bank account using your parent’s debit card without notifying the bank of the parent’s death or taking property, such as valuable jewelry and paintings, in the house prior to the administrator or executor making an inventory, this is stealing, and your brother, through the executor or administrator, may sue you for this perceived inheritance. You still have defenses. For example, if your brother thinks you stole personal property, you can raise the defense that you reasonably believed that the property you took actually belonged to you. If you took money from the bank account after your parent’s death, you could simply return it, or you could raise the defense that the money taken was used for your parent’s medical expenses or other debts.
If your brother has sued you because of your inheritance, an estates attorney will be able to help in any case. Should you need assistance, we at the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We are located in New York, NY. You can call us at 212-233-1233 or send us an email at [email protected].