May 20, 2024

Needham, MA--Selling a property owned by multiple owners can be smooth sailing when everyone is onboard with the idea of selling and in agreement with the proposed sale price and the timing.

But when the sale of the property comes under dispute, things can get extremely complicated and expensive.

The most typical case that erupts into a dispute may be siblings arguing over selling a parent’s home that they have just inherited. The sale can be complicated by an emotional attachment to the home, especially in times when the heirs are still grieving. In this case, it might be best to just let some time pass before attempting the sale.

However, it can be even more difficult to navigate if one of the siblings is living in the house and does not want to move. In that situation the siblings have three options:

  • Work out a deal to let the live-in sibling pay rent to the other heirs
  • Negotiate with the live-in sibling to buy the other siblings’ portions
  • File a partition action with the court

Of course, the optimum solution is to work out a deal that everyone can be happy with because partition actions can be costly, time consuming, and result in a lower sale price for the heirs. But it may be the only legal option for the other siblings who don’t want the expense of maintaining an inherited house indefinitely.

What is a partition action?

A partition action is a legal proceeding at court where the petitioners – in this case the siblings who want to sell – petition the court to force the sale of the home. Here are the basic steps of a partition action:

  • A Petition for Partition is file in Land Court or Probate Court
  • The petition is then provided to all other owners, as well as the mortgage company who holds a financial interest in the property
  • A legal notice is published in a local newspaper
  • The petition is recorded with the Registry of Deeds

The court then examines the nature of the property to decide if the property itself can be equitably divided, which may be the solution for undeveloped land, though could not be accomplished with a single-family home.

If the property cannot be divided the court will order a sale by public auction or by listing the property with a real estate agent.

Following the sale of the property, the proceeds are normally divided equally between the owners or heirs. However, if one sibling has been living in the home and has substantially contributed to its upkeep or renovation, that individual can petition for a larger share to offset their investment.

Partition actions should be the last resort in such disputes because in addition to the court costs, the property nearly always sells for less than it would have had the heirs placed it on the open market to begin with.

At Kriss Law/Atlantic Closing & Escrow, we are vigilant in working closely with your clients to help them navigate the complications that arise when multiple heirs are selling a property. Contact us today to discover more about our services and expertise.

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