The Moneyist: My father wants to deed his kids his home before Prop 19 takes effect. I suggested a life estate instead — he said I’m ungrateful

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Dear Moneyist,

I have been a faithful reader of your column for many years, and it has shaped how I think about relationships, property, and finances as I begin to navigate the financial world as a young adult in her mid-20s. Though I thought it would be a decade or two before I had to confront any of these issues myself, I find myself in need of advice now.

California just passed Proposition 19, which will in part require that inherited homes that are not used as principal residences, such as second homes or rentals, be reassessed at market value when transferred.

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My father has recently inherited just such a home from his parents’ estate and, in an attempt to circumvent this new law, would like to immediately pass it onto his children: myself and my siblings. My father has a lot of nostalgia for this second home and rigid ideas on what should or should not be changed. Selling the property during his lifetime would be a massive betrayal.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky: My father has had rocky relationships with most of his family members. He and his siblings have not spoken for years at a time. He and I did not speak for a year. He and my brother had a similar falling out. During the lowest point in our relationship, I wanted nothing more than to cut ties with my father and begin a life financially independent from him (easier said than done whilst still in college).

‘When I usually read your column, people attempting to protect their own interests receive push back from their loved ones. I never thought it would go the other way around.’

Though our relationship has been repaired in the intervening years, I worry that in the future we may experience a similar fracture and I will again wish to relieve myself of all ties to him and his demands. Or that, if not me, my siblings will. I have asked him to look into a life estate, or a similar binding document that would ensure his interest in the property is protected, while still accomplishing his desire to transfer the property to us now.

I did not expect such a forceful response on his part! When I usually read your column, people attempting to protect their own interests receive pushback from their loved ones. I never thought it would go the other way around.

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I want to protect his interest, but he insists that any attempt to formalize our “mutual understanding” demonstrates a lack of integrity on my part. He believes I don’t trust myself to keep my word and that I would simply have “no morals” if I broke any part of this agreement — which, again, has never been explicitly laid out. I’m not completely sure what I’m agreeing to.

This would be the first piece of property I own and I am feeling out of my depth. Is there any reason for me to not agree to this arrangement? What should my siblings and I discuss before the three of us enter into this legal relationship?

My father is accusing me of being ungrateful for hesitating instead of simply accepting this gift, and has suggested he may just deed the property to my siblings instead. This all feels so rushed and I don’t have the experience or knowledge necessary to make the right decision for all of my family members, myself included. Any advice would be appreciated.

Concerned Daughter

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Dear Concerned,

It seems like you are concerned about Proposition Family Feud — that is, the emotional gift tax of owning a property with your brothers and being tied to your father and his potential demands and gripes for the rest of his days. It took me a while to process your letter and figure out what is at the crux of it, and my guess/suggestion is you feel anxiety over being involved in such a relationship with your family, which has been a source of conflict for most of your life with, perhaps, your father as the agitator-in-chief.

There may come a time when you need the share of your father’s house: to help you with your retirement; to further your education or that of your children, if you have any; or to upgrade your own home. Think twice before making a financial decision based on emotions. Without Proposition 19, property tax is based on the value of the property when it was purchased, limiting property taxes to 1% of the home’s taxable value. Those who will be hit hardest by Proposition 19 will be children inheriting their parent’s home.

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You have warned your father. People are unpredictable, and children don’t always act honorably. This column often chronicles the best and worst of people’s behavior when a substantial or even modest inheritance is at stake. I don’t believe you can change your father’s mind, and he does not appear to see or choose to see that you are attempting to protect him, not the other way around. You will have to work with your siblings and father on maintenance, property taxes and other expenses related to the house.

My solution — as much as there is one — is to recognize that. You cannot control your father or your family, and must realize that what he does and says is out of your control. The challenges in life over which we feel frustration, anxiety or anger are typically out of control, and any attempt to control your father’s actions or reactions is futile. For that reason, your solution is simple: Accept the house and make a conscious decision to divorce yourself from the drama. In fact, this could be a welcome, valuable learning experience for how you deal with challenging issues.

It might also be worth discussing with your siblings the idea of setting up a living trust — where your father specifies who is responsible for what — and presenting it to your father together with your other siblings as a sensible legal and financial option. Your father does not appear to like relinquishing control by signing an agreement, yet he will be doing just that by signing over his home during his lifetime without one. Shakespeare has written about this problem, and I have received many Learesque letters. But that is his conundrum and/or cross to bear, rather than yours.

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