Estate dispute between brothers over family home ends in tragedy

A common sibling estate dispute that I see in my practice involves the family home where an adult sibling continues to reside in the home after the parent has died.

Sometimes a sibling will move in to take care of the elderly parent. In other situations, the parent is caring for an adult child who is disabled. Or the child may be living with the parent because he or she is unemployed or has recently been separated or divorced.

Parents in this situation often do not know how to plan for the ultimate disposition of the family home after they die. They may provide that the child can remain in the home for the rest of the child’s life or as long as the child desires. Quite often, the parent does not make it clear in the Will as to who is to be responsible for expenses or whether the child is to pay rent.This leads to disputes with the other children who are not occupying the home.

Sometimes, the parent simply leaves the home to all the children equally without making any provision as to the rights of the child who was living with the parent at the time of death to remain in the home.

While these fact situations can result in costly Court disputes, sometimes, siblings take the law into their own hands with tragic results.

This week I read about the sad story of a dispute between siblings involving a family home which resulted in an attempted murder/suicide. This tragic story involved a dispute between two elderly brothers in Brooklyn. Thomas Athanasatos, 73 and his brother James, age 63, were involved in a dispute involving their late mother’s home. The brothers had been feuding since at least 1974 when Thomas’ marriage fell apart and he moved into the family home. Thomas continued to live in the home after their mother died several years ago but the brothers inherited the home equally from their mother’s estate. Thomas wanted to remain in the home. James wanted to sell the home and split the proceeds.

Thomas had allegedly invited James to come over to the house to settle their differences over the family home. They got into an argument. The argument became violent and Thomas shot James with a homemade pellet gun in an attempt to kill him but, fortunately, his brother was only wounded, albeit seriously and will probably lose an eye.

Thomas then apparently turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.

While it is rare for sibling estate fights to end this way, it does happen. This tragic story underscores the bitter emotions that can fuel a sibling estate dispute.

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