After the death of a family member, the division of the property from their estate can often result in complicated and drawn-out legal battles between parties who believe they are entitled to some of the proceeds from the estate. Although a clear and valid will helps heirs and the courts determine who deserves ownership of assets after a decedent passes away, things can be complicated by agreements, promises, and contracts that are not discussed in the will itself. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently ruled for the defendants in a case filed by plaintiffs who believed they had an ownership interest in a piece of property that was tied up in the estate process.
The plaintiffs in the recently decided case were the children of a woman who died while living at a home in 2012. The home was owned by the woman’s brother, who is the defendant in the case. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiffs were under the impression that their mother owned 50% of the property at the time of her death, and argued that although her ownership was not recorded in an official capacity, that the defendant had acknowledged and promised to her that her children would receive half of the value of the property upon her death.
When the plaintiffs made a claim to their mother’s estate for their presumed share of the property, the defendant responded by stating that he owned the entire property, as it was conveyed to him by his and the decedent’s mother before her death. Reviewing the public records, the probate court determined that the property was solely owned by the defendant, and that the plaintiffs had no claim to the home. The plaintiffs then sued the defendant in the Providence County Superior Court, alleging that the defendant had made an enforceable promise to their mother to hold the property in trust for their benefit, that they were entitled to one half of the value of the property, and requested that the court order the sale of the property and award them what was due.