Several years, I sold a farm that three brothers and three sisters had originally inherited from their parents in 1968. In 1975, one of the sisters died. She was a widow and her three children (we knew of only two at the time of the sale) inherited her 1/6 share ownership of the farm. A second sister died in 1984. At the time of her death, she was married and had two children – a son and a mentally disabled daughter. In 1990, her husband died leaving his entire estate (which he believed included his wife’s 1/6 interest in the farm) to the son who was caring for his sister.
We listed the property in June. By early August, a contract had been signed and the closing was set for September 1st. The Title Company requested a copy of all divorce decrees from the three sellers who had been divorced and remarried. One of the decrees showed that an ex-wife had not signed the proper documents at the time of the divorce. Legally, she had an interest in her husband’s inheritance. After a few tense days for the ex-husband, she signed a quit claim deed that gave up any interest she might have claimed to the property.
Next, the Title Company determined that one of the dead sisters had three children and not two. The third child, his wife and family were in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Two weeks later with the help of an anonymous source, I found him. He and his wife agreed they would sign the deed, but the time and place would be determined later and I was to be ready to meet on a very short notice. Then a major problem surfaced!
The Title Company discovered that the second sister died without a will. This meant that her husband inherited only one-half of his late wife’s interest in the farm and their two children had inherited the other half. The intent of the parents had been for the son to receive 100% of the mother’s interest in the farm for taking care of his mentally disabled sister. Now the brother learned that legally he was entitled to only 50% of his mother’s interest in the farm. Since he was not his sister’s legal guardian, the Court would have to appoint a guardian to represent her in the sale of her share of the farm. Furthermore, the brother would have to go to Court against his sister’s guardian to establish who was to get the heir’s share of the farm.
An attorney was appointed to act as a guardian for the sister. The Court ordered that the mother’s interest in the farm be appraised as of the date of her death in 1984. Because I had been selling the land in the area since 1967, the Court accepted my appraisal of the property. Then, nothing seemed to happen. Sixty days had passed since the scheduled closing and no one seemed to know when the Court would make a final decision.
The sellers were becoming concerned. Suppose another heir died before the sale was closed? Or, what if one of them became ill and could not act on their own behalf? They wanted to close the sale as quickly as possible. I offered a suggestion to the Title Company and they agreed.
The Title Company would close the sale. All of the owners would get their share and the Title Company would hold the disputed 1/12 share in an escrow account. Once the Court made a decision, the Title Company would pay the money to whom the Court designated. The sale closed in December – 90 days after the scheduled closing.
Three months later the Court ruled that 1/2 of the mother’s share of the farm (or 1/12 of the sale proceeds) would go to the brother as the parents had wished. But, by this time it didn’t matter to the brother. Here’s why: the 1/12 disputed share of the sale was $15,580. The Court costs and legal fees amounted to $14,250.