Sorting through my dad's financial mess (long)

sharonlee593November 29, 2005

You guys asked about estate planning? My dad is 72 and doesn't have it together *now*. I'm trying to help him, and I know he needs legal advice, and we are getting it. But any extra help or ideas would be fantastic.

In a nutshell: He had a 17-year relationship. They were married in all ways but the official one. (She didn't want to remarry because she was getting some sort of benefits from her ex I think.) I thought they were a good match, since my dad is a good guy but can be difficult and she seemed to have the right personality. But evidently she has tired of him and wants to be alone. Or so she says.

Which is hearbreaking, but the REAL problem is that "they" own two houses, one in FL and one in NC, but both of them are IN HER NAME. She no longer wants to work so has no income, and is not 65 yet. They are both architects. He helped her after her divorce, put her through architecture school, and then added her to his practice. They were a very good team. They bought property in the NC mountains and built a main house and studio designed specifically for them. They remodeled a house here in Florida. Both places are lovely and reflect each of their personalities in a unique way.

Why, you ask, are both of these houses in her name? Good question. The short answer is that my dad has always had a tough time managing his finances. When I was a teenager the house we lived in was foreclosed on, and my parents divorced. When he hooked up with this girlfriend a year or two later, she carried the bank account. When they bought the land in NC with cash 12 years ago, he put it in her name because he said he wanted her to build assets (she had nothing after her divorce either).

He never tried to get either of the mortgages, just let her do it. I guess he assumed he was barred for life or something like that. I can assure you he never thought she would leave him. I didn't either. Yes, he is at fault for not seeing that this could happen, but what would the courts say?

She is at the house in NC and he is in FL. Yesterday he got a letter from her, making the breakup official. But she also said she wants to sell the FL house, pay off both mortgages, and then give him a "percentage" of the remainder. "To be fair," she said. I guess she thinks he can live in an apartment.

I am seething, because the only fair way to divide things would be to cut them in half. He has supported her with his income and his practice all these years. They each had nothing and they built it TOGETHER. But she is acting like a spoiled child, and frankly I am surprised. She apparently wants to no longer work, own the house up there free and clear and toss him out the window. He is not an easy person but he doesn't cheat, doesn't drink, doesn't abuse. He does not deserve this at all.

I told him that before he makes a move, the first thing he must do is find out from attorneys in both states whether there is legal precedent and what the likely result would be if he were to sue for his half of the properties. I told him he may have to suck it up, help her pay her expenses while she goes through some rough patches in exchange for getting her to quitclaim half of each property to him. Then I could help him get a mortgage on the house down here if need be. It's not a huge amount of money and DH and I have agreed to step in if necessary.

He wants to go in like a bull in a china shop and threaten, place liens on the homes (which he can do as an architect). I told him to slow down and handle it delicately.

Sorry this is so long - but if any of you have any idea what might work or help, I thought I would throw it out here. You guys are so supportive, and I appreciate it in advance!

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Sharon, I am so sorry to hear about your Dad's situation. What a terrible thing to go through especially during the holidays. I'm glad he has you to lean on during this difficult time for him.

The only thing I know for absolute sure is that your dad needs to consult an attorney immediately. Start with a Florida attorney. I don't think either Florida or NC recognize common law marriage, but I have to believe there is some way for the property to be distributed equitably. Will your Dad be able to prove that he contributed to the household and paid towards the houses? (It sounds like she may have all the financial records and bank account information). Maybe their break up be handled as the dissolution of a business and equitable distribution of assets from the business? Is their joint architectural business incorporated? I understand his name is not on the mortgages but is it on the deeds by any chance? I am sure you have thought about all these angles, but the only advice I know for sure is to find a great attorney and follow his/her advice! I wish the best for your Dad.


    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 11:39AM
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Sharon, it's possible your dad can claim a purchase-money resulting trust in order to get his half-interest in the NC land. There is recent appellate case law on this in NC (1999). I'm not sure if this is possible under FL law. You need to get attorneys in both cases ASAP. What you need is a good litigation attorney who either has a handle on property law or is part of a firm that also has a good reputation with respect to property law, so the litigator can conslut with the property partner(s).

Good luck, and let me know if you need a referral - - depending on the area of FL, I might be able to refer you to someone.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 12:06PM
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I know that your tremedous love and support for your father must mean everything to him at this point. I hope that when everything settles, he has the time and energy to move forward in a good way. Would you and your very DH have a place in your home for him should he lose the FL house? When his anger subsides, I hope he can count his many blessings, starting with the fact that you are his daughter.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 12:50PM
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My neighbor (now 60) had a female roommate (never a girlfriend or a lover)who lived with him for 12 years. When he fell in love and went to get married, the roommate sued for half his assets as his common-law wife since they did not have a lease or rental agreement on file! She got half!! Check into the laws regarding common-law. ASAP.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 1:48PM
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I agree - after so many years of living together all of the rules of marriage should apply, because of them being common-law spouses. I think in CA it is 7 years? I'm not sure. If that's the case, he should get half of all assets, no matter whose name it is in. He needs to see a lawyer asap.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 1:56PM
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I'm fairly certain common law marriages are not recognized in NC. I don't know about FL. Many states simply don't recognize them, so you have to sue under a different theory of liability.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 2:03PM
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Fl has not recognized common law since 1968 I believe.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 2:22PM
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20 CFR 404.1101(c)

SSR 72-26

After January 1, 1968, common law marriages entered into the State of Florida are void. Florida Statutes Annotated, provide in pertinent part:

741.211 Common law marriages void
No common law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968, shall be valid except that nothing contained in this section shall affect any marriage which, though otherwise defective, was entered into by the party asserting such marriage in good faith and in substantial compliance with this chapter. Laws 1967, c.67-571, 1 eff. Aug. 3, 1967.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 5:02PM
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Rats. Our neighbor's situation was in GA. Bummer. I sure hope your dad can come out of this okay.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 9:28PM
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Oh, I can sure count on you guys for ideas and good thoughts, thanks so much for reading through this! Yes, as stated above, FL and NC are not community property states. He honestly did not know that. Dad knows a lot about oh, maybe a half-dozen things, but when it comes to common sense things like financial affairs, he doesn't get it at all. I really don't think he knew what he was setting himself up for, and I think after what happened with his bankruptcy when I was a teen, he honestly never thought he could build back his credit enough to have a mortgage.

These suggestions have been very helpful. Jerzeegirl you thought of some things that I definitely had not. The good news is he has plenty of hard evidence that he was the main breadwinner and that they both entered this arrangement with nothing. She worked for his corporation and his practice, they brought in clients together, he has possession of a lot of documents as well as the deed to the N.C. land. They paid cash while building their dream house up in N.C., based on their drawings together. The very small mortgage on the property is in her name only, but it probably represents less than 1/10 of the value of the house and acreage.

There is no way a reasonable adult could argue that she paid for these homes alone. So the question is whether he would win in court, or would he get shafted for making a bad decision? Paige, I was so glad you responded and I might check with you for a referral. He has an attorney in NC and is looking for a new one down here in FL. Apparently the one he has now has been "their" lawyer, and this lawyer does not feel comfortable representing one against the other.

If this goes to court, they are going to have to spend so much money on attorneys fees, they won't be able to keep either place -- they'll have to sell and divide the proceeds, which should give them each enough to buy a place for cash but it won't be as lovely as what they have now. I just hope it doesn't come to that. I've told Dad he just has to take the high road, but make it clear he is not going to let her do what she says she plans to do. I have to believe that any judge would rule in favor of dividing what they have earned together. If we can get some evidence to that effect, perhaps she will acquiesce and be fair.

Paige I will look into the "purchase-money resulting trust" and see if it might apply. THANK YOU.

And cup and snookums, you are the best, thanks for your kind words and support.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 10:30PM
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And skatiero too! (((Skatiero)))

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 10:31PM
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Sharon, good luck with this. I *think* the purchase money trust comes down, in part, to whether your dad put a portion of the money into the house at the time of purchase with the expectation that it would be his, even if it wasn't in his name.

Let me know if you need a FL attorney and if so, what area your dad is in.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 8:07AM
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Any updates? Good news?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 2:26PM
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Sharon: That Florida attorney cannot represent either one of them since your dad and his ex have conflicting interests. *Uncomfortable* for him to represent your dad? Unethical and reportable to the Bar Association if he represents either. He can still refer your dad to a reputable colleague, however.

So much for the stereotype of only women being naive and trusting when it comes to financial matters. . . .Best wishes, and I hope your dad appreciates your efforts and support.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 4:24PM
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Thinking of you and your dad! How is everything going?

Any updates?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 9:13PM
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KO: That makes sense, and that's what the attorney has done.

Thanks for your thoughts guys. Unfortunately I have hit the wall as far as trying to offer dad some help. I can't/won't go into it too much here, but he made some very unfortunate choices when he drove up to see her over a week ago in hopes of hashing some things out. I didn't want him to go, and reminded him ad nauseum that he needed to behave impeccably, and he did not. He said some terrible things and she had to call the police (to get him off "her" property), is the short version. If I were in her shoes, I would probably get a restraining order against him, even though I know he would never harm her.

I was so, so angry with him, but also worried, because the things he said and what he believes are so bizarre that I am wondering if he is in the early stages of some sort of dementia. There have been other signs, but it is hard to tell because he has always been a little nutty.

So I am worried about him, and a little angry with him for probably messing things up, since I fear that if he ever becomes incapacitated or completely broke, I will have to be the one to step in and support him. If I have to, I will, but if his struggles are purely financial, I will not be happy about it since it could have been avoided. He just doesn't make good choices. The one good thing for me is I learned very very early what NOT to do.

The only thing he has going for him right now is that his ex doesn't have the funds for a drawn-out legal battle, so she probably will want to settle and get rid of him. I just don't want it to get uglier than it already has, but at the same time I need to set boundaries for my own involvement. I was so crushed by the way he behaved, despite my counseling and the counseling of others, that I don't think I can keep going through this with him. Does that sound mean?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 9:47PM
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Sharon, it doesn't sound mean at all. Just frustrating. I don't know if you remember my post about my grandmother and my aunt and all of the bad stuff going on with our family, but I, too, have decided to take a step back because for everything I try to do to help my grandmother, she does ten things that make the situation worse. Some people just can't be helped, and trying will just exhaust you and take your resources away from those who need them and will benefit from them.

Right there with you, sadly.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 9:56PM
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Sharon, Do you think that his erratic behavior is the root source of the breakup? Perhaps he should be evaluated to find out if there is some medication that can help him. If dementia is involved then he will not be able to make good decisions. Trust your instincts on this one. Can you get him to see a doctor?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2005 at 9:40AM
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Oh Sharon! I'm so sorry, and can only imagine how hard this must be for you.

You know, you may be onto something with the early dementia angle... Would that be something you might be able to ask his ex about? Expres your worry about your father's behavior, and ask if the behavior she's seen might be consistent with that? It might help swing her around from 'He's a #&%^$' to 'He's not himself'...

On the other hand, you're absolutely right to maintain a certain amount of distance. If your father is not becoming incapacitated, then he is fully responsible and you don't need to let him drag you down with him. We have a similar situation here with a family member who seems hell-bent on self-destruction and is currently spreading a lot of ill-will about our refusal to bail him out of his latest self-induced disaster.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2005 at 11:25AM
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(((Paige))) You are right. This is (another) hard lesson to learn. Too many lately.

Jerzeegirl and Sweeby, you are thinking exactly the way I've been thinking, but I haven't made a move yet to start really investigating. I have to figure out how to add another long-term crisis to my life. (As I've posted before, BIL is dying of cancer -- in what appears will be a drawn-out, ultra-agonizing manner. Since DH is the closest sibling and we have young children like they do, we are heavily involved in their ups and downs.) Due to an assortment of other fairly large-scale challenges this year, most of which are "fixable" but have been exhausting since they seem to come one after another, I am wrung out. But then I look at what my sister in law is dealing with every single minute of every day and I know I need to suck it up.

So my cue came today. My dad's ex called my mom. They had talked before over the past year or so about my dad. This time she was almost panicked. She's very upset at my dad's behavior and even scared, and I believe she has filed some police reports, which as I posted above is not surprising.

It's time for me to step in, try to allay her fears, figure out what is going on, deal with my dad, call his therapist, call his best friends, and try to get a timeline of his behavior. I just need the strength to take this on. Right now DH and I are busy compiling a memory book for his brother as a Christmas gift, and it will be beautiful, but it is a lot of work. I don't even have time for Christmas shopping.

Thanks so much for your caring posts. You guys always come through.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2005 at 1:03PM
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Sharon, I am lifting you up, sweetie. I can only imagine what you're going through. My mother is one of those spicey personalities that just find friction and drama everywhere, yet is so frail healthwise and requires much attention and help. Having had three strokes last year (Nov) that affected her memory, it's been hard. I cannot fathom a breakup to add to this heartbreaking scenario. If my Dad left us to deal with her alone, it would be volatile.

I would do everything I could to get your Dad some type of medical evaluation. Trying to reason with him about his behavior won't likely work if he's angry unless there is a serious group intervention. We've had to have many "step out of the emotional box" conversations here so people won't take what Mom says to heart or personally. She can say some bizarre, hurtful things that under earlier circumstances would crush your spirit.

Praying for you.


    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 10:41AM
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Ugh, Sharon, parenting our parents is never fun. And all the more frustrating given the other things going on in your life right now. You are giving so much of yourself to others right now, I'm guessing you don't have a lot left to give yourself. Don't forget to find a few minutes to recharge your batteries in some small way before you burn out. We are all with you, my dear.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2005 at 4:04PM
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