Tell Me About It: He has a free house when I have to struggle to keep a roof over my head
PROBLEM: My mother died almost seven years ago. Her house passed to her children – myself, my sisters and brother. However, the day after she died, my brother moved into the house.
I didn’t say anything for the first year, but, since then, every time I ask my brother about the house, he has abused me in some way. At first, he told me he saw himself as a guardian of the house, and that my family was welcome to visit whenever we wanted. I repeatedly explained I didn’t want to do that – first, it simply isn’t a practical option, and second, the abuse I suffered as a result of our mother’s depression and our father’s alcoholism meant I had nothing but painful memories of the place.
I was made redundant, and had difficulty finding another job during the recession. I asked my brother to please decide if he wanted to buy out my share or sell the house, as the money would have helped me pay my mortgage while unemployed. But every time I met him, he would get angry at me for raising the issue and tell me there was something wrong with me for pressuring him like that.
In the end, I had to go back to a lower paid, lower status job than before to keep up with the mortgage. Meanwhile, he’s been living rent and mortgage-free in a house I partly own for seven years, pursuing his own interests.
My sisters, whose financial situations are different from mine, have refused to get involved. They are okay with him living in the house and get angry with me for being upset about it. I’d been asking for the four of us to meet up for years to discuss the matter. When we finally met up almost two years ago, he acted reasonably in front of my sisters saying he would buy out my share, but since that meeting I haven’t heard a word from him about it. I just feel broken by his (and their) treatment of me, and I’m not sure I can handle any more of them telling me I am worthless and selfish.
The fact that he has a free house when I have to struggle so hard to keep a roof over my head is really hurtful, plus it is like a repeat of my parents’ abuse, where they paid for him and my sisters to go to college but refused to help me at all, so I had to fund myself entirely (even though I had higher grades).
ADVICE: Many people reading this will empathise with your situation. The decision about how property gets dispersed following the death of a close relative can have effects that can last decades. It is not just about the money, it is also about whose voice gets heard, who appears to have the right to disperse the property and what hierarchy emerges from the aftermath.
From your letter, you say you were singled out for lack of financial support before your mother died so you are dealing with legacy issues here as well as the matter of the house.
This is a complex situation and it seems that you have suffered continuously for seven years and are left feeling frustrated, resentful and angry. There is no great evidence that anything is going to change with your regular interventions (all this seems to produce is confirmation that you are the person with “issues”). It might be time to plan out some actions both for yourself and for your family of origin.
For yourself, it is time to tackle your own wellbeing – you have attached your idea of wellness to your brother behaving reasonably and buying out your share of the house. The difficulty here is that you have put him in charge of how you feel, and this leads to continuous anguish for you. Breaking this cycle is of paramount importance and you will need to tackle this deliberately.
Firstly, accept that your brother will not willingly give way in this situation, then face clearly what is in front of you: asking politely has no effect and you need to get attention by being strong, clear and precise. This means that you stop seeing yourself as his (their) victim, as this leaves you vulnerable and pleading.
You are an adult with rights, and you can enforce these rights if you have the courage to assert them. To help yourself, practise speaking to a friend until they tell you that they can hear conviction and determination in your voice; you will be surprised how you can put these characteristics into your speech with practice.
The actions in terms of your family are to bring in external adjudicators either in the form of family mediators (available from your local citizen’s advice centres) or solicitors. If you are struggling financially, you can avail of the Free Legal Advice centres. Your situation is not novel, and there will be expertise and advice available that follows a well-worn track to sort out family affairs such as yours.
Once your family of origin see that you are willing to go all the way to sort out this injustice, they may be open to mediation or discussion that leads to a conclusion.
This route has the added bonus of growing your confidence in demanding your rights and changing the status quo in the family.