Q: My wife, my sister and I are all seniors, 67, 72 and 68 years of age respectively. My wife and I own a home, as does my sister. We would like to sell our houses and buy a house in some joint fashion.
We are concerned with the disposition in the event of the demise of one, two or all of us eventually. Is there some instrument or legal form we should be looking at. Any help you can provide will be most welcome. Thank you!
A: Let’s start at the top: Are you and your sister going to split the property in half? Or, are you going to buy it in thirds (two-thirds for you and your wife, one third for your sister)? This is the first important decision you need to make.
Once you decide on the ownership share of the property, you need to think about how you want to hold title to the property, and how you will manage the ownership of it. You can do this in a number of different ways.
You and your wife and sister might consider having an attorney draw up a partnership agreement that spells out what would happen in case of someone’s demise.
One way to do this would be to allow the survivors to purchase the third share in the property at either a pre-arranged price or at the prevailing market price. Or, the heirs of the deceased might inherit one-third of the property, but the surviving individuals would have a “life estate,” which means they would have the right to live there until everyone is deceased.
Another way to do this would be to own the property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. In this way, the other two people would automatically inherit the ownership interests of the deceased third person. The only drawback to this plan is if the deceased homeowner wants to pass down his or her ownership in the property to other heirs.
You might also consider putting the house into a trust. A trustee would manage the property for the benefit of you, your wife, and your sister. Once all three of you are dead, the trust could sell the property to benefit previously designated heirs.
You should have a conversation with an estate attorney or real estate attorney, who can walk you through these options, and discuss what kind of plans you should make given your particular financial situation.