Dear Len and Rosie,
My mother-in-law secretly funded the purchase of a home for one daughter, keeping it a secret from my husband. She gave away anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. To my knowledge, her only assets are a small pension and her home, which is in a trust to be split equally between the three children.
She is approaching 90 years old, so I am thinking that if she passes away, the sister keeps her house, the “loan” comes out of the equity Mom’s house, and the sister still gets 1/3 of what is left.
We are very stressed about this, and there has been no communication with the family in almost a year. Is there any information that I might be able to obtain on my own, such as through the county assessor?
You have free articles remaining.
The issue isn’t whether or not your husband’s mother has kept all this a big secret. She has every right to do so. She doesn’t have to treat her children fairly, unless all or part of the trust became irrevocable when her husband died, which isn’t likely to be the case. We’d have to examine the trust document to know. If the trust was an ordinary revocable trust that left everything to the surviving spouse, then she may give as much as she wants to whomever she wants whenever she wants.
The real issue is whether or not your mother-in-law lacked the mental capacity to make such a gift or was otherwise the victim undue influence. If, at the time the loan was made, she didn’t really have the ability to make decisions on her own, then the validity of the gift may be challenged in court.
You can find out whether or not she borrowed against her home to make the gift or loan. A home loan in California is secured by a “Deed of Trust,” which is technically different from a mortgage, but they both pretty much work out the same way. If a loan was made against your mother-in-law’s home, then a Deed of Trust was recorded in the County Recorder’s office.
If you’re lucky, you will be able to research recorded documents online, which you can already do in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties. Kudos to the Sonoma County Recorder, from which you may purchase recorded documents online with immediate delivery. Or, if you cannot figure out how to do it yourself, see a trusts and estates attorney.
Len and Rosie