: My husband and I took care of his mother for 4 years. His brother said we could have her house — but now he wants to kick us out


Dear Moneyist,

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, and 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?

Distraught Daughter-in-Law

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Daughter-in-Law,

You have done your mother-in-law a great service. There are approximately more than 1 in 5 unpaid adult caregivers in the U.S. — the equivalent of over 50 million adult Americans — if extrapolated for the entire population, according to a report released last year from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. 

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 mind 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

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 Wiseman Bray law office in Memphis, Tenn. What’s more, oral contracts often require witness testimony, it 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 one that is not so uncommon among caregivers who devote years of their life to an elderly relative, sometimes at great financial and personal cost. 

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, 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.

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.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘I just don’t trust my sister’: How do I gift money to my nieces without their mother having access to it?
We’re getting married and have a baby on the way. My wife has offered to pay off my $10,000 student debt and $7,500 car loan
I have three children. I quitclaimed my house to my most responsible son. Now he has blocked my calls
My brother-in-law died, leaving his house in a mess. His landlord wants me to repaint and replace the carpet. What should we do?

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