Q: My dad bought a house for me and my wife. My dad is about 70 years young. The mortgage is under his name.
I want to add my name and my wife’s name to the house, just in case. Do you think that is possible? If so, how can I do it without paying too much for the services?
A: It is possible to be added to the title. You and your father can own the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorships. Putting you on title isn’t difficult, but there may be estate ramifications because the IRS could see this as a gift to you. If that’s the case, your father may owe gift tax.
Before you do anything, you should sit down with your father and have a conversation about what will happen to the property after he is dead. If he is willing it to you as part of his estate, his will should be written to reflect that wish. By the way, you can’t just write down what you want to have happen on a piece of paper. To be valid, a will must be written down, signed by witnesses and notarized in accordance with state law.
If your father doesn’t have a will when he dies, a probate court judge will determine how his assets, including “your” home, will be divided amongst his heirs. His heirs would include a wife, children, and other relatives.
If your father doesn’t own more than $1.5 million in assets, then putting together a simple will is fairly easy and inexpensive. You may be able to have one written and notarized for less than $500.
Another question to ask yourself is not when are you going to be added to the title, but when are you and your spouse going to be ready to assume the financial responsibility for this property? That includes being ready to pay the mortgage, taxes, maintenance and upkeep associated with the property.
When you are ready to do that, you can buy the house from your father, and get a mortgage in your own name. Or, if you father chooses, he can finance your purchase himself.
Talk to an estate attorney for more details.
Sept. 23, 2004.