Ask an Expert: My brother and I are inheriting everything from our parents. How do I make sure I get their co-op?
Ask an Expert

Ask an Expert: My brother and I are inheriting everything from our parents. How do I make sure I get their co-op?

By Leigh Kamping-Carder  | February 18, 2014 - 2:30PM

Q. My elderly parents plan to leave everything equally to my brother and me, although the two of us are no longer on speaking terms. Unfortunately, they don’t say anything in their will about who gets their Queens co-op.

I do everything for my parents, and I’d like to inherit the shares—not to live in the apartment, but to sell the shares and keep the proceeds. Is this possible? If so, how?

A: Here’s the bottom line: if you want to inherit your parents’ co-op alone—whether you plan to sell it or live in it—you need to make sure your parents leave it to you in their will, our experts say.

“This is clearly a train wreck waiting to happen,” says real estate attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, adding, “As of now, [you] have no legal rights to the apartment other than as set forth in the will.”

How do you make that happen? The first step is to talk to your parents.

“Have a frank discussion with your parents regarding their intentions and your desires,” says Roberta Axelrod, a real estate broker and asset manager at Time Equities.

If your parents agree that you—and not your brother—should get the apartment, an attorney can make changes to that effect, Axelrod adds. 

Talking to your parents may seem like a difficult task, but consider the alternative: you may find yourself waging an expensive battle in Surrogate’s Court—and that’s especially true “given the clear problematic family dynamics,” says Roberts.  

Plus, if the will says that your parents want to divide their estate equally between you and your brother, that’s how the executor and the court will interpret your parents’ wishes when it comes to the co-op, says real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.  

In that situation, the executor will sell the co-op, add the proceeds to the estate, and divide the estate down the middle, says real estate broker Shirley Hackel of Warburg Realty.

“Even if you wanted to occupy the apartment,” she adds, “you probably could not because your brother would likely contest that, and since most boards require co-op consent, you would need to complete a sales application and also be interviewed to gain the board's approval.”

Also note that even if the will provides that the apartment goes to you, the co-op board would still need to review it and approve that this is the case, Roberts says. 

One last thing: if the apartment is no longer occupied by your parents, don’t forget to let their insurer know, says apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage.. “Vacancy can void insurance coverage.”

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