About 12 years ago, I started taking care of my maternal aunt and her husband. They had no kids. They live 30 minutes from me. I took care of their tax returns. I am an engineer, and not a CPA, but I have been doing tax returns for my family and relatives for years (for free, of course).
While reviewing the returns, I found my aunt had been filing fraudulent tax returns through another firm (without her knowledge). I fixed some older ones and started doing the returns correctly. She trusted me to assist her. I just did it without asking or expecting any kind of compensation.
In 2015, my aunt and her husband said they would gift her house to me. This house was already free and clear. Her brother, my uncle, assisted her with the initial down payment when she purchased the home back in 1990. She did not wish to pay for a living trust.
“‘In 2015, my aunt and her husband said they would gift her house to me. This house was already free and clear. Her brother, my uncle, assisted her with the initial down payment.’”
By 2017/2018, my aunt’s and her husband’s health had been declining (Parkinson’s disease). My wife and I promised to assist them with living expenses, doctor’s appointments, care facilities, nursing care, hospital visits, etc. We did all that as promised.
In 2019, her husband passed away. From that point on, we paid for live-in care for my aunt. I finally asked my eldest sister to live with her. I compensated my sister in caring for her. Within one year, my aunt passed away.
We cleaned up the house, remodeled it, pulled money out (70% loan-to-value ratio) and finally rented it. We actually gave out shares of the cash-out to my siblings (all of them had assisted me one way or another in her care).
“‘I have made attempts to contact my uncle to give him his share, but to no avail, whether it is via text, phone, email or snail mail. Our Christmas card was returned to sender.’”
Of the 10 shares total, my wife and I kept two shares while keeping the house and the loan on it. The rest was distributed to my siblings (five shares), my parents (one share) and my uncle (two shares). I was given the house as a gift, so it is legally in my name.
I have made attempts to contact my uncle to give him his share, but to no avail, whether it is via text, phone, email or snail mail. Our Christmas card was returned to sender. I don’t know why he won’t discuss this further, but I can make an educated guess as to why.
He is already well off — a retired anesthesiologist — so he doesn’t need the money. I offered to gift this house back to him, with the caveat of him refinancing the loan first before I transfer the title to him. His sons said they will attempt to talk to him, but they don’t think he will listen.
How do I repair this relationship?
Trying to Do Right By Everyone
You can be the caretaker for your aunt and uncle. You can fix their taxes. You can pay their bills, and arrange for a nurse to care for them in their last days. You can make sure that they have a warm, safe home to live in. You can fulfill all your obligations as their nephew, and then some.
But you can’t make everyone like you, or even appreciate your generosity. Not everyone will see you for who you are: a kind, thoughtful and compassionate person. Even if your uncle had a change of heart, there would still be far too many people in the world to appease.
Unlike some people, you did everything by the book. Your aunt did not have children. Her brother likely did not help them with a down payment with the expectation that they would leave their home to him in return. If his help did come with such a caveat, he should have made that clear.
There is nothing wrong with you inheriting your aunt’s home. You went far beyond the call of duty by remaining a steadfast and constant presence in your aunt’s life, and paying out of your own pocket for her care. You gave it your all. You were recognized for all of your hard work.
“‘You can fulfill all your obligations as their nephew, and then some. But you can’t make everyone like you, or even appreciate your generosity.’”
An act of sacrifice — “Take the house, if it means that much to you” — won’t make your uncle like you. And if that is what it takes for him to return your calls, it would be a pyrrhic victory and/or a transactional and meaningless detente. That’s not the kind of relationship or acceptance you should settle for.
Do the right thing, and honor your aunt’s wishes. Stop reaching out to your uncle. You have done enough. Sending him texts, emails, letters and voicemail messages will only harden his resolve and — let’s face it — probably create more anger and ill will. It’s too much outreach. You have no control over how he feels.
You do have control over your aunt’s estate and home. Focus on that. Take care of it, and ensure this gift is one that puts good energy into the world, providing a home for renters — especially during a rental crisis for so many Americans — and being a good landlord. She wanted you to have her home, after all.
Your uncle is his own man. Good for him. Leave him to live his life in the manner that suits him. It’s time to enjoy this time by living yours. Being a caretaker is an important job, though often underpaid and under-appreciated. The time has finally come for you to now take care of yourself.
Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.
The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.
By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.
I am my elderly husband’s caretaker, driver, butler and whipping post. He promised to leave his grandson his home — is that fair to me?
My father desperately begged me, ‘Son, get a lawyer. That woman is going to take away your inheritance!’ My stepmother kept $1 million after he died
I paid $600,000 for a house, and my fiancée paid $200,000. I put her name on the deed, but my lawyer says I should own 75%. How can I fix this?
Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.