DEAR BENNY: I know you often write about "timeshare" problems, so perhaps you will write about mine. We were on vacation several years ago in Florida, and met a pleasant young woman who offered us a number of "goodies," including a three-night stay in a five-star hotel. The catch: We had to spend about two hours listening to her sales talk about the wonderful benefits of timeshare ownership.
Yes, we were sucked in and signed up. We now owe approximately $45,000 to the developer, plus have to pay more than $1,000 a year for association dues.
My husband is now in ill health and there is no way we can use our "one week in paradise."
We tried to sell it by going online to a company that promised us — indeed guaranteed us — that it would sell for $20,000. But there was another catch: We had to pay a nonrefundable fee of $2,500 up front to this company.
You guessed it: We paid the money and never heard another word from them. Any suggestions on how to rid ourselves of this albatross? –Susan
DEAR SUSAN: Yes, I have written about this problem in the past. One time I suggested donating the timeshare to a local church, mosque or synagogue, but I received an e-mail from a priest urging me not to make that suggestion anymore. The church has no need for the timeshare, and doesn’t want to pay the annual fees.
Periodically, I go to my favorite search engine on the Web and see if there is anything new. I just learned about two companies that will accept donations, and you may actually be able to take a tax deduction as well as rid yourself of the property.
I make absolutely no recommendations; you have to decide on your own after doing what we lawyers call "your due diligence." Research the company, and talk with an attorney to assist you through the investigation and the donation (should you decide to move forward).
DEAR BENNY: My wife died recently and we had no children. I do not want to live in my house anymore and am considering gifting it to my best friend and his wife. Is this a good idea? Are there any tax consequences for either of us? –Tom
DEAR TOM: You and your friend should each consult with independent financial advisers before you make any final decisions. Gifting a house means that your basis for tax purposes (what you paid for it many years ago plus any long-term improvements) becomes the tax basis of the gift recipient. Thus, if they should sell it before they can qualify for the up-to-$500,000 exclusion of gain, they may have to pay a lot of capital gains on the profit they did not make.
That’s not a good thing for your friend.
But I believe you were asking about gift tax consequences, not capital gains tax.
First, your friends will not have any immediate gift tax consequences; true gifts carry no tax for the giftee. But there may be consequences for you. Currently, any taxpayer can give a gift up to $13,000 per person; in your case, assuming your house is appraised at $300,000, $26,000 of the property is not taxable to you. But the difference ($274,000) may be a problem for any of your heirs.
You will also not have to pay any gift tax. But every taxpayer has a lifetime gift-tax exclusion, which currently is $1 million. Accordingly, the $274,000 will be deducted from the $1 million.
If you haven’t given any more gifts — or if you do, you are satisfied that you will not exceed that million-dollar threshold — you should have no problems. But your tax adviser should discuss your financial situation and give you a specific response.
DEAR BENNY: My two brothers and I are the equal beneficiaries of our mother’s estate, which included a house, as well as credit-card debt. I am the executrix of the estate. We had an appraisal done on the house and it was valued at $337,000 in "poor condition." My one brother and I are doing some major repairs to the house as well as paying all the expenses to maintain the house — i.e. property taxes, insurance, utilities, etc.
My other brother has no interest in repairing the property or paying any of the expenses to maintain the home, and is interested only in receiving his one-third share whenever the estate is finalized. (He had lived in the house for a year after my mother’s death, rent-free, with the understanding he pay all the expenses. We asked him to leave, and when he did we found out that he caused a lot of destruction. He also did not pay the expenses of the house as he had agreed).
Is he entitled to receive one-third of the value after the repairs? I believe once the house is sold, we should be able to reimburse ourselves for the expenses, and split the proceeds three ways. The brother who is working on the house with me believes this is fair considering all the work we are putting into the house, and that we should get a greater share.
Can you give us any advice regarding the proceeds of the sale of house? –Della
DEAR DELLA: I can give you only general advice. Because you are the executrix of your mother’s estate (called personal representative in some states), that means you are in your state’s probate court. You should talk with your attorney about your question. In some cases, you may have to get specific court approval to reimburse yourself.
But your proposal is more than fair. You and your brother have spent a lot of money making the house presentable for sale. That also means that you have increased the value of the house, and clearly you should be reimbursed for your efforts.
Generally, courts will not reimburse you for the time you spent working on the house; they will, however, allow a reimbursement of your actual — and documented — expenses.
That means that you should keep all receipts for the work done on the house. You should also take pictures of the "before" and "after" condition of the house.
Keep in mind, however, that the credit-card debt — and other bills that your mother may have owed at her death — will have to be paid off from the house sale proceeds. You may also have to pay inheritance taxes; your attorney and your accountant can assist you in determining what you have to pay.
DEAR BENNY: I just read your recent column about the homeowner who refused to pay for recurring ceiling leaks. I have been in the plumbing trade for 50 years and have come across similar situations. What can occur is in the vent pipe, which runs from one set of fixtures to another set of fixtures and exits through the roof. The horizontal run can get a leak above the ceiling in a dining room location that you wrote about. I have found this with plastic and iron pipe being used. –LaVerne
DEAR LAVERNE: Many thanks for writing. I always like to hear from professionals. You have highlighted a common but serious problem in condominium associations: What pipes do I (as a unit owner) have to repair and what pipes are the obligation of my association?
You correctly state that the vent pipe that connects one set of fixtures to another exists through the roof. Your unit typically includes the walls to walls and floor to ceiling. Anything above the ceiling — such as the roof or the unit upstairs — may not be part of your unit.
But that’s where your legal documents come into play — specifically the declaration and the recorded plats and plans. The declaration may state that pipes, for example, which are used exclusively for your unit, will be considered a "unit" even though it is not entirely in your unit.
You have to review your legal documents. The language is often technical — and sometimes confusing. Ask your attorney — and the association’s attorney — for a legal opinion. This becomes especially critical when there is a leak and the master insurance carrier denies responsibility, claiming it is part of the unit — while the individual owner’s carrier (called an HO-6 policy) denies coverage for the opposite reason.
Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.