Dear Len & Rosie,
My wife and I and our daughter bought a home in Goleta, near Santa Barbara. Our daughter has lived there ever since. She has paid rent to us for her use of our half of the property. We purposefully kept this rent low so that it was just enough to cover the mortgage.
Late last year, we agreed to a refinance and take $40,000 of our equity out of the home. Because escrow was closing while my wife and I were visiting our son in Portland, we authorized the title company to cut a single check to our daughter for the entire amount. Our daughter agreed to put our $20,000 share in our bank account using a deposit slip which we gave to her.
She now refuses to give us our half of the money. Her reasons are complicated and somewhat emotional. We have tried repeatedly to talk to her, but we have had only one telephone conversation, which was not very helpful.
We are reluctant to seek an attorney because of the costs, both in money and in emotional terms; and also because we feel there is still hope that we can resolve this problem. However, she still refuses to give us our share of the money.
You and your wife are now stuck in the unenviable position of having to decide between losing $20,000 or suing your daughter. The two of you poured some of your life savings into that home as an investment to provide for your future. You even gave your daughter a sweetheart deal on the rent. Now it's time to cash in and your loving daughter has returned your generosity by stabbing you in the back.
I bet your daughter has crafted a magnificent rationalization for cheating you. She's probably at home griping that she has made all the mortgage payments and that you have contributed nothing toward the purchase of the home other than a portion of the down payment and help in qualifying for a loan.
Who's right? You are, but what you are going to do about it? You don't want to sort this out in court. Ask yourself how much money you and your wife have actually spent on this property. If the answer is "not that much", then forget what the deal was and let your daughter keep the money.
You should not sue your daughter even if you are not willing to forget about it. Guess where she's going to live if she loses her home? With you. Instead of airing your family's dirty laundry in court, revise your estate plan instead and leave more to your son to even things out. It will cost you much less money and will not destroy your relationship with your daughter.
And another thing. Never give anything to your children that you might want back. Parents give and children take. It's a universal law they don't teach in law school.
Dear Len & Rosie,