Q: When mom paid off her home years ago, she put the deed to her home in my sister’s and my names, so there wouldn’t be red tape if something happened to her. Years later, my sister has become an addict and has disappeared. My mom has taken care of her kids and the kids are now well into their teenage years.
My mom’s house is in desperate need of repair. We’ve often discussed tearing it down, but we can’t do anything without sister’s consent. We’ve had no contact with my sister for years and she’s been in and out of jail numerous times. I’ve heard there is a way to remove someone from the deed if you publish that person’s name in the paper for a certain length of time.
This is my mother’s house and she pays all the bills. I’m uncomfortable being on the deed and want to know how to get my mother’s name back on the title to the home.
A: We’re sorry that your family is going through difficult times. Your case is a classic example of why we have told our readers for years that parents should not simply give their home to their kids. There are better ways to protect assets and avoid probate and after death title issues.
One of the best ways to protect your interest in a property is through a living trust. In some states, more people are using a transfer on death deed, but some practitioners aren’t in favor of the transfer on death documents.
The solution to your problem is quite complicated. Obviously, if you knew where your sister was and she was willing to sign her interest in the home back to your mom, you’d achieve your goal. But given that you haven’t spoken to your sister in years, and your mother has raised her kids, this isn’t likely.
At this point, you should talk to an attorney to discuss what options might be available to you. Some states have procedures in place for abandoned property, including real estate. In your email, you reference a process of trying to settle the ownership of the home by publishing the demand that the owner make himself or herself known over a period of time. When the owner does not come forward, you might have a presumption that the owner have given up his or her rights to the property and then proceed with a court action to get full control and ownership over the home.
But the process is time consuming and may be costly. You may need to go to court to prove your mother’s ownership in the home and you may need the help of a knowledgeable real estate attorney in this area. Before you hire an attorney to assist you, make sure he or she has handled cases exactly like yours in the past – and had a successful resolution. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to clients who can share their stories and experiences. You need to know what you’re getting.
If you don’t know a real estate attorney, you can find one by calling your local or state bar association and asking for the head of the real estate committee. Tell your story to that person and ask for a few names you can call for help. The referrals you get should be good matches.
While your sister hasn’t been in the picture for some time, do you think you could try to find her and see if she would be willing to transfer her interest in the home to your mother? If you found her and she was willing to help out, you’d save yourself quite a bit of time and money, not to mention the ongoing headache that resolving this situation is likely to cause.