by Tina Seymour Demoran
A TALE OF TWO PARENTS–OTHERWISE KNOWN AS — WHEN THE CHICKEN CROSSED THE YARD!
There once was a client who had a piece of land that she wanted to break into pieces and give to her four children prior to her death. It was already surveyed, she just needed her lawyer to assist her setting up the deeds and ensuring that the transfers were made. A savvy lawyer’s first question should be: “Have you spoken to your children about this land transfer?” (Not that it would normally be a bad thing, but you always want to let people know before you start signing land into their names.)
Her answer in this scenario: Yes.
The savvy lawyer’s next question should run something along the lines of: “How do your kids get along?” (Crazy question? Nope.) Why should this be a consideration when splitting up a piece of land amongst heirs…especially siblings? Well, things can happen…
There was also once a client who was being sued by her sister over chickens. Her father had two daughters who have not gotten along since they were kids. He had a piece of land he wanted to split the land down the middle and distribute it in equal shares to the two sisters. Both sisters moved onto the land and built homes after it was transferred. Sometimes the sisters got along. Sometimes they didn’t. When it was the best of situations, everyone was happy. When it wasn’t….well…they ended up in court.
A few years after the sisters moved onto the land, Sister #1 decided to buy a few chickens. After a while, chickens being what they are, she tired of the upkeep and asked Sister #2 if she would like to have her chickens. The Sister #2 said yes, and just like that, the chicken transfer was completed.
But chickens, being chickens, like to go home to roost in their original place of residence.
Sister #1 sent word to Sister #2 to retrieve the trespassing chickens from her property. The chickens kept getting out, and to add drama to the story, a rooster was added to the mix. I won’t go into rooster behavior…but let’s just say the addition of a rooster did not add to the general well-being between the two sisters. A bit of time elapsed, and the chickens and the rooster disappeared from the hill. The sisters then had a conversation, whereas Sister #2 accused Sister #1 of taking the chickens. Whilst several different versions of the story emerged, Sister #2 felt like she had enough proof on Sister #1 to have her arrested.
Yes. You heard that correct. Arrested for petty larceny. Of chickens. Arrested as in a subpoena issued, Sister #1 was booked, and she had to have bond posted for the hearing. Sister #1 hired a lawyer, who researched domestic animal and livestock trespass laws and thought they had a good case.
If the chickens kept coming back into Sister #1’s yard and they weren’t secured, and Sister #2 had notice of it, then Sister #1 had the right to defend her property from the offending animals. The lawyer wasn’t saying that Sister #1 did anything to the chickens…but if proof was presented that would make it appear she did–then the lawyer felt like she had a pretty good defense to the charges.
The lawyer was armed and ready for the Chicken Sister case.
The day of the hearing arrived. Sister #2 didn’t appear for court.
The lawyer had the case dismissed and had to have the arrest expunged so that a petty larceny arrest wouldn’t cause harm to Sister #1’s future.While the charges were dismissed…these two sisters are still neighbors.
So what should we learn from the stories of the two parents?
As parents, it’s very easy to say, “Just divide it up equally amongst the five kids. Let them figure it out.”
The first parent consulted with an attorney, who advised her to consider the personalities and relationships of her heirs…prior to transferring the property.
The second parent split a piece of land between two sisters who weren’t exactly best friends…and didn’t think about how that could affect an already tense relationship.
In estate planning, we should take into consideration the heirs’ personalities, previous conflicts, and the ability for heirs to get along if they are neighbors, even when there is a firmly placed boundary line between them. I always believe that prevention and being proactive is so much better than being reactive and shooting from the hip.
No one wants heirs suing each other over how the property is divided…or over petty issues after the property transfer has been made.
Land is just one asset that can cause heir conflicts when a person passes away. Family heirlooms, furniture, jewelry, and other possessions can also become a point of contention with heirs after someone passes. Taking the time to plan how, who, what and when…and how assets will be transferred…can save time and hurt feelings later on down the road.
I’m not saying it’s a one size fits all solution. However, in the years of estate planning that I have done, I see this type of planning as a better solution than simply saying: “I’ll let the kids figure it all out when I’m gone.”
If you have any legal questions or comments, let me know through email firstname.lastname@example.org or (228)224-6781. Thanks y’all.