Life Advice



Aunt Owes for Rent-Free Living

Annie Lane on

Dear Annie: Back in the 1960s, my father inherited some land with houses on it from his uncle who raised him. For some reason, he let his sister, my aunt, and her family move into one of the houses rent-free.

In 2002, my father died. My sister, my brother and I inherited the property. I bought my brother and sister out at an agreed price. My aunt continued to live on the property and would repeat quite often that my father's will stated she could live there for free.

After eight or nine years of doubt, I went to probate court. It turns out the will did not say this. So, I started charging my aunt rent. My whole family got terribly upset about this. I have not spoken to my sister ever since. As far as I am concerned, my aunt owes me about $35,000.

My aunt is not poor. Just like my family, she was a penny pincher. I am a Christian, but I just cannot think of having anything to do with somebody who would pull a stunt like this. How do you feel? -- Crooked Relatives

Dear Crooked Relatives: Legally, your aunt has no right to live on your property without paying rent. Remaining on your land without permission constitutes trespassing. Relaying this to your aunt may be enough to get her to start paying.

However, you might also want to consider the arguments of your family. Think how hard it must be for your aunt to leave the land that ties her to her dead brother, land on which she's been living for decades. Maybe you have it in your heart to negotiate a deal with your aunt -- charging her rent that is well below the market rate. And please, get it out of your head that she owes you $35,000 for back rent, especially when your father refused to charge her anything.

Dear Annie: My cousin, who was a dentist in Kansas, died of pancreatic cancer two years ago. My side of the family was very supportive of his wife and children. We called and wrote to them several times to offer our support, and I drove over 400 miles to attend his funeral.


A year ago, my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer. The wife of my late cousin has known this for at least six months. She has made no effort to communicate with my sister (or me) in any way. Is this a form of narcissism or just a bad character flaw on her part? -- Cancer Support Not Reciprocated

Dear Support Not Reciprocated: Grief comes in waves, and the healing process looks different for anyone suffering a loss. Perhaps it's neither narcissism nor negligence on your late cousin's wife's part but simply a reopened wound too close to home right now following her husband's death two years ago.

Whatever the reason for her radio silence, the only thing you can control is how you support and show up for your sister. Continue to stand by her during this difficult period, and over time, hopefully others in your family will follow suit.


"How Can I Forgive My Cheating Partner?" is out now! Annie Lane's second anthology -- featuring favorite columns on marriage, infidelity, communication and reconciliation -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to




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