Q: I purchased a home in 1993 as a single man with a mortgage in my name only. In 2001, I paid off the mortgage. Not being married, I signed a quit claim deed transferring ownership with right of survivorship to myself, a single man, and my partner, a single woman.
I did this on my own at the county clerk’s office, therefore it is registered and valid on initial examination. I did this for no reason other than I wanted her to have a place to live if something were to happen to me.
Now we are splitting up and she is demanding I pay her half the value of the house. She is doing this out of spite as she knows she doesn’t deserve it. My friend had a real estate license and claims that I may be able to contest the legality of the title/deed transfer based on a couple facts, namely that the transfer was done in error.
I didn’t know what I was really doing, as my intent wasn’t to give her half the house but to give her a place to live if something happened to me. I just went to the clerk’s office and the lady at the counter told me to fill out the quit claim deed.
There was no consideration for the interest in the property from her to me. There was no acceptance from her, in writing, since she didn’t know I was going to do it. Do I have a case? Does she?
A: You were very foolish to file a quit claim deed without consulting an attorney and fully understanding what you were doing. If your quit claim deed was legally filed, you may have given half of the value of the property to your friend.
There were so many other ways to have handled this situation without resorting to a quit claim deed. You could have prepared a valid will in which you created a life estate for your lady friend. After your death, she would have had the right to live in the property until her death or until she chose to move. Then, your heirs would have received the property. Or, you could have just given it to her upon your death.
You could have also prepared a living trust that could have given her the right to live in the house in the event of your death or to transfer title of the house from you to her upon your death.
The nice thing about a will and a living trust are that the documents can easily be changed.
What you need now is a top-notch attorney who can help you think through the ramifications of what you’ve done and can discuss your viable legal options. But be prepared to lose half the value of the property, in case you actually filed the paperwork correctly and you find out that your actions gave her a gift of half the home.
March 5, 2009