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A Family Feud and Intended Use

Q: " I was recently hired by a local attorney to appraise a small industrial building. The intended use was supposed to be for estate tax purposes. The attorney said this building is the only real property owned by the descendent and that there are two beneficiaries, the son and daughter of the owner who recently passed.

When I went to inspect the property, I was met there by the son, who tried to supply me with reams of paper, including inspection reports and estimates purporting to depict needed wall and roof repair, needed asphalt repair, HVAC and plumbing problems etc. At first, I thought he was trying to get me to “low ball” value so they would not have to pay so much in taxes, but then it got worse. The brother told me that he and his sister agreed that he was going to buy her out and that they will be looking at the appraisal to determine the purchase price. He was still trying to get a “low ball” value, just for a different reason.

I tried, politely, to tell the brother that I was hired to prepare the report to submit with the estate tax return. I said he and his sister had to get another report to serve as the basis of their purchase/sale discussions. That did not go over well. The brother started yelling at me that if he was paying for the report, then it was “none of my business” what he used it for.

Things got worse when another guy pulled up in a truck and started yelling at the brother. Turns out that it was his brother-in-law. He said the brother was trying to influence me to come up with a low value so he could get away with paying the sister less than what her fair share was worth. He was insisting that the brother give him copies of all the papers he was trying to give to me and the two of them almost came to blows. I jumped in my car and said I would have to inspect another day.

I have drafted an email to the attorney that hired me relaying what transpired today and telling him that I am not in a position to complete this assignment. He only hired me the other day, so I have not caused them any real delay and I have not accepted any fee yet because I wanted to inspect the property first to see how involved the report would have to be.

I stated as reasons for refusing the assignment the fact that I learned the report was going to be used for purposes not initially conveyed to be as the “intended use” and that I had received information that would make it difficult for me to render an objective opinion of value.

The bottom line is that I don’t want to get myself into the middle of this family fight. Do you see any problems with me withdrawing?"

A: I think you are making the right decision and I agree with your stated reasons for doing so. The attorney might not be happy, but he has time to find someone else and you have not accepted any payment, so there are no fee issues to be debated.

I would suggest that you try not to go into too much detail about the happenings at the subject property. Relay what transpired as factually as possible. You don’t want to be accused of bad mouthing either gentleman or misrepresenting what was said. Be glad you found out about this problem early on before you did find yourself in the middle of a fight.

Would you like Claudia to manage your liability concerns?