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posted: 12/29/2012 5:30 AM

Many issues of joint ownership involve cousins

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Q. Four people were deeded a 1920 log cabin in another state several years ago. This cabin has been either quitclaim deeded or left through inheritance to four generations of family.

I bought out one of the owners, so now I have fifty-percent ownership. The other two are not interested in keeping the house and want to sell. It was appraised at $45,000 last year. These two want $11,500 each, and I cannot give them this amount and still make repairs. I would like to give them about half that much due to the recently-needed roof repair. I would like to warn them about some possible cost if they force a sale, as they say they'll do if I don't give in.

Will we need an attorney to represent all of us or should I have my own attorney? Involving attorneys, I should think, would be rather expensive, as would a title search required going back to 1920. Of course there would be Realtor fees included, but to your knowledge, are there any other expenses? Since I do not want to sell, would I have to share in these expenses? In other words, how does this whole thing work?

A. This column gets these questions all the time. As soon as I read, "When my grandfather died ," I'm pretty sure I'm hearing from one of the cousins. It probably works out fine most of the time, but those aren't the families I hear from.

Yes, any of the owners can force a sale but that would be a public all-cash auction, and you're not likely to get anything close to true value. In addition, you'd all have extra legal costs.

You don't need a real estate broker, but it sounds as if you could use a mediator. How about offering your cousins -- if that's what they are -- half what they're asking in cash and mortgages for the remainder? That way you could pay the rest off month by month. It would then be a friendly sale. One attorney, or whoever else usually handles closings in that state, could take care of all the paperwork. Fees would be shared, and it's always acceptable to ask in advance what that might cost.

Q. About four years ago I wrote you that my mother was in a nursing home. I was applying for Medicaid for her but had a problem with her home because they were including it in the Medicaid calculations at the assessed value.

We got a temporary reprieve, and then the Medicaid examiner said that if a son or daughter had lived with the person for the previous two years and this had kept the person from being institutionalized, the home could be transferred to the son or daughter and not be counted for Medicaid. My brother qualified -- I had the power of attorney so I transferred the house to him.

A. That's interesting. Thanks for the update.

Q. My wife and I separated almost five years ago. I moved out, and she continued to live in the house we bought together. A year ago she was diagnosed with a debilitating and terminal disorder, and I am paying the mortgage.

She moved out of the country to be closer to her family. I have been told that for me to sell, she must travel to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to sign the deed documents, but she is severely disabled and too ill to travel. Therefore I cannot sell the house. I have been advised that my only other option is to stop paying my mortgage and have the bank foreclose on the house. Is this really the only option?

A. There must be a way to accomplish what you need. Perhaps a consul would delegate someone to travel to your ex -- after all, they're supposed to be helping Americans abroad. Try getting in touch with your Representative or Senator's office. They will often go to bat for you when you're tangled in red tape.

Then again, in some real estate situations these days, digital signatures are legally binding. Or perhaps there's a court procedure that would help, something similar to a suit to quiet title. I assume you've talked to attorneys, but it seems as if a good real estate lawyer should be able to find some solution for this. If the first one had nothing to suggest, I'd consult others.

Do let us know what happens.

• Edith Lank will respond to questions sent to her at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14620 (include a stamped return envelope), or readers may email her through askedith.com.

2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.

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