Four years ago, my husband and I moved into his mother’s home because she was no longer able to take care of herself. My husband is disabled and cannot do a lot physically. After the first year, I quit my job because my mother-in-law’s health declined even more. As of today, she is in a hospice.
Not long after we moved in with her, there was a verbal agreement between my husband and his brother — they talked about it and decided that we would get the house after she passed away. But now that housing prices have increased so much in Tennessee, his brother has decided that he wants to sell the house.
Even before my mother-in-law’s health declined, my husband would take care of her. He would take her to pay bills, buy her groceries, and all the other everyday things, without help from anyone else. The will that my mother-in-law wrote states that my husband’s brother will be the executor upon her passing.
My question is: After she dies, will he be able to kick us out of his mother’s house? Would the verbal agreement they made hold up over the will? Is there anything we can do to stop him from kicking us out?
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You have done your mother-in-law a great service. There are approximately more than one in five unpaid adult caregivers in the U.S., according to a report released last year from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving — the equivalent of over 50 million U.S. adults if extrapolated to the entire population.
Many do it because they are left with little choice; others sacrifice their own personal and professional lives in order to take care of a beloved friend or family member. In fact, a study in the journal Health Affairs estimates that lost income of unpaid caregivers will reach $147 billion by 2050. Experts recommend against quitting your job, if at all possible.
Your mistake was to assume that you would receive your mother-in-law’s house in return for your husband’s constant support for his mother and your four years of full-time caregiving. People are notoriously unpredictable. They change their minds and say things they don’t mean or intend to follow through on, and they say things they believe other people want to hear.
Verbal contracts are enforceable in Tennessee, but best avoided. There are six types of contracts that must be done in writing. They include marriage contracts, those longer than one year, the promise of an administrator or executor to pay the debts of a deceased person’s estate, sales of goods and property that cost more than $500 — and land/property contracts.
“Even after you have successfully navigated all of the above requirements, you should still be careful to file a lawsuit for a violation of an oral contract within 6 years in Tennessee — the same statute of limitation as a written contract,” according to the Wiseman Bray law office in Memphis, Tenn. Oral contracts often require witness testimony, the firm adds.
You relied on your brother-in-law’s word. He may have intended to make good on that, or he may have decided his promise was enough for you not to initiate a conversation with your mother-in-law about her will. Whether or not he is the executor, you will need to abide by her will. If she dies intestate, her estate will be divided among her children.
There are other questions that remain unanswered: What does the will say? Is the house paid off? Can you afford to buy your brother-in-law out if the house is divided between the two brothers? These are all hard lessons to learn, but ones that are not so uncommon among caregivers who devote years of their lives to an elderly relative, sometimes at great financial and personal cost.
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