DEAR MRS MACAULAY,
My mother died three years now, leaving seven of us. She did not leave a will. I am the fourth child, and my three siblings, who were born before me, are taking away the house from the other four of us. When my mom bought the house, my two older siblings were of the age to go on the title, so she put them on it. Now that she is dead, they want to control the house. What can the four of us do to get our share?
I wish you had told me whether the children on the title were registered as tenants-in-common or joint tenants with your mother, who died intestate. However, as this kind of arrangement is done quite often, I would assume that it was done as joint tenants. In this scenario, the older children would have been told that they were being added in case she died while some of their siblings were still minor children, so they could keep the premises safe and look after the young ones. In other words, they would hold it as trustees for you all to share equally.
I am, however, a bit confused, because you say it is the three oldest siblings who are taking the house away from the four younger ones, including you. This third sibling was not added to the title by your mother. So on what basis is this third one claiming to be in a different and better position than you four younger ones?
Anyway, the first thing you should do is to try and remember each and every comment your mother made about the house, especially addressed to any of the older ones. Comments like, they 'must remember that it is [her] house', or 'the house is for the family'. You should also get a certified copy of the certificate of title from the Titles Office. The next thing is, you four should get a lawyer to advise and assist you.
You must tell the lawyer everything each of you remember about any and all statements made over the years about the house and show them the copy of the title. It is only in this way that a proper decision can be taken as to whether you have sufficient evidence to support an application for a declaration that the two siblings on the title were put there as trustees and not as owners who can exclude you from getting any benefits from your mother's property.
If there is no evidence to support the fact that the two siblings added to the title were trustees and not truly joint proprietors, then the property would legally belong to them. If they were tenants-in-common, then they would, with no evidence to the contrary, be entitled to a one-third each of the value of the property, and the remaining one-third would be your mother's estate to be shared between all seven of you. If this latter is the case, then Letters of Administration must be applied for, to administer the part which is your mother's estate. You all should, in such a circumstance, get together and decide which one or more of you should be the administrators.
All the above are suppositions, because you did not give me full details. Get your lawyer and provide every bit of information to the lawyer so that they can make the correct decision. You must also show the lawyer the certified copy of the title. This is to show what is endorsed on it.
You see, even if your mother intended the property to be for you all but she left no proof of this, and none of you four have any evidence of her intention, and the two are registered as joint tenants with her, the property would legally be theirs, even if she told them her intention — but you cannot prove it
Get a good real estate lawyer and tell that person everything, as you will have to go to court if your older siblings stick to their position.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to email@example.com ; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.