A One- Act Play.
Characters: Ailing elderly mom, not-so-wealthy adult son, and son’s wife.
Opening scene: Living room in a nice house located in an unidentified eastern state. Son, son’s wife, and mom are talking.
Mom: “Woe is me; I am sick, and I need help.”
Son: “It would be great if you were closer to us. But our house is too small for you to live there, and we don’t have enough money to buy a bigger house.”
Mom: “I have an idea. What if I sell my house here and use the money to help you buy a bigger house in Texas? Then I can live in the house with you for the rest of my life.”
Son and Son’s wife: “OK.”
Second scene (takes place 1 year later, in the kitchen of a house in Texas).
Mom: “I’ve sold my house, given you over $200,000 to buy this new one, moved here, and now we are all living together. But you yell at me.”
Son: “Why do you say such mean things to my wife?”
Son’s wife: “From now on, we will only communicate by passing written notes back and forth.”
Mom: “I will just stay in my room.”
Third scene (takes place 6 months later, son and son’s wife on one side of a closed door, mom on the other side).
Son (yelling): “We received an offer on the house and are selling it. You have 3 weeks to find another place to live.”
Mom (yelling back): “When do I get my money back?”
Son and Daughter- in- law: [silence]
Common Family Agreement Complications
Problems often arise with agreements among family members. There are several reasons why this happens. The agreements tend to be more casual because of the relationship. Families often agree on the main idea but then neglect to iron out the details. The agreements are seldom in writing. Family members tend to make deals with each other that they would never make with anyone else.
When a family agreement goes awry – and many of them do – then emotions come into the picture. Family members tend not to play fair. They may say that they have a completely different memory of the deal points. Claims may arise that the deal was unreasonable or that there wasn’t even a deal at all. A family member may threaten to withhold visits with grandchildren or cause an estrangement with other relatives not involved in the deal.
Is a Contract Between Family Binding?
Yet a contract between family members is just as binding and enforceable as a contract between strangers. It is not a defense that the other side to the contract is your mother.
In the above scenario, the parties had a contract. The elements of a valid contract are an offer, an acceptance, a meeting of the minds, each party’s consent to the terms, and execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding. Mom offered to financially contribute to the purchase of the property so she could live there the rest of her life. Son and his wife agreed. Mom paid the money and moved in.
It is challenging for families to grapple with care and living arrangements for an older relative. Sometimes it makes sense for an elder to move in. Before that happens, iron out the details on issues like reimbursement of expenses, costs of caregiving, house rules, living space, and what happens if the arrangement doesn’t work as planned. And put it in writing.
Hammerle Finley Can Help
Virginia Hammerle is an attorney with Hammerle Finley Law Firm. She is entering her 40th year in the practice of law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal specialization. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to receive her firm’s newsletter.