personal finance

Can we make our children sell the family home after we die?


My husband and I are in our 70s and still live in the house where our children grew up. We worry that they will disagree over whether to sell the house when we die. Can we leave instructions in our will for the house to be sold and divided equally?

Olivia Turner, associate in the trust, estate and inheritance disputes team at law firm Withers, says it will not surprise you that the family home is a common battleground when it comes to post-death disputes. Conflict often arises between siblings where one person lives in the house or obstructs the sale process due to emotional attachment and grief. Other examples could be where sibling rivalry is at play and one person tries to control or have the last word in the sale process.

As a starting point, it is best to be transparent with your children about what you would like to happen after your deaths. Avoiding any surprises and making your expectations known is one way to head off potential disagreement (so talking about who gets items such as family heirlooms is likely to be a good idea too).

Olivia Turner, associate at law firm Withers

In short, the answer to your question is yes — in the majority of cases, the house will have to be sold and you can include instructions in your wills for the executors to sell the house and divide the proceeds equally between your children.

You could include instructions in a “letter of wishes” alongside your wills. Letters of wishes are not legally binding but can guide your executors to ensure your personal wishes are carried out. That approach also gives the executors flexibility to deal with changing circumstances.

If you believe that your children will disagree over what to do, you need to think carefully about the identity of the executors. Choosing one child but not the other may cause conflict, but that could be preferable to guaranteed conflict if you appoint both. You can appoint any adult to act as your executor (most commonly two and certainly no more than four).

The role of executor is important and you should appoint people who have the right skill set and in whom you have confidence. You may wish to appoint a professional executor, potentially alongside your children. Professionals should be objective and help navigate any disputes between your children.

Leaving the house to your children could also have tax benefits. In addition to the £325,000 nil-rate band (NRB), there is an additional residence nil-rate band (RNRB) available if you leave a residential property which has been your home (or the sale proceeds) to your children (or grandchildren) on death. The maximum value of this relief is currently £175,000. Any unused NRB or RNRB can be transferred to the surviving spouse or civil partner.

After you have made your wills, I would encourage you to review them regularly or at least every five years.

Can I get compensation for HS2 works?

I live in Queens Park in London and have received numerous letters about my property from the Department for Transport. The letters say my house is above the High Speed 2 rail route and that they have made a General Vesting Declaration affecting the subsoil to our land and property. They have offered us £50 per metre and say they need 4m, so about £200. I don’t want HS2 built underneath my home. Is there anything we can do about it?

Shilpa Mathuradas, property litigation partner at Osbornes Law, says that since this is a compulsory purchase order there are, generally speaking, very limited grounds on which to submit an objection.

Compulsory purchase is a legal process that allows public and private bodies to require those with an interest in land to sell their interests if they obstruct any development or infrastructure which benefits the “greater good”.

Section 8 of the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Act 2017 authorises the government to obtain and use the subsoil to build HS2. The Act authorises the compulsory purchase of land, including subsoil, within defined vertical and horizontal limits.

Shilpa Mathuradas, partner at Osbornes Law

Based on what you have told me, you don’t have grounds to prevent the work from happening but that doesn’t mean you need to accept the compensation you have been offered. You are free to use a professional adviser to negotiate a claim and you can contact the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to get names of surveyors who have the relevant expertise in this area.

We understand the government is offering £250 for professional fees, whether you use such an adviser or not. I would advise that you do, especially given that this compulsory purchase may well restrict your own subsoil developments, such as if you wanted to create a basement.

If your property can no longer be developed because of the sale of the subsoil, it certainly could have an impact on the value of the property and your ability to sell it.

Generally speaking, it is not clear what the impact will be on property prices, but it is likely that the nearer you are to the line, the greater the possibility there will be a short term negative impact. In the case of subsoil, however, the question is whether there is likely to be any vibration or subsidence while the works are being undertaken or once they are complete. This will be something a surveyor will be able to advise on.

Whatever you decide, you must submit a compensation claim within six years of receiving notice of vesting, after which your right to make a claim ends. If the government does not accept your claim, the matter may proceed to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Tribunal).

The opinions in this column are intended for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. The Financial Times Ltd and the authors are not responsible for any direct or indirect result arising from any reliance placed on replies, including any loss, and exclude liability to the full extent.

Our next question

I am a self-employed hospitality worker. Since March 2020 my income has suffered and I am struggling to balance my books. For many months my main income was from the government’s Covid-19 support scheme and rental income from my family’s rural cottage over the summer. I am preparing my tax return but am very worried about the January 31 deadline as I don’t have the money to pay what is owed. Do you have any advice?

Do you have a financial dilemma that you’d like FT Money’s team of professional experts to look into? Email your problem in confidence to money@ft.com



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