Q: I bought a house with an ex-girlfriend who had moved out a year after we bought it.
Then three years ago she passed away. I now want to refinance my house and put my new wife on the title. But I’m having a problem with the title company not willing to clear the title.
We have not been able to contact a next of kin. What can we do?
A: The title company is not the problem. They are doing the right thing. You probably purchased the home with your ex-girlfriend and took title as tenants in common — you each own the home fifty-fifty.
The title company has reviewed the title records to your home and has determined that you only own half of the home. When your ex-girlfriend died, her relatives inherited half of the home. They may not know it, but your ex-girlfriend’s interest passes to her family members.
You are going to have to find her relatives to clear the title. But keep in mind, her relatives own half of your home. The only way for you to own 100 percent of the property is for your former girlfriend’s family members to quitclaim their interest in the home to you.
You will have to tread carefully. If you and your ex bought the home, got 100 percent financing and the property has not gone up in value, your ex’s family shouldn’t be able to claim that they are entitled to much in the way of compensation.
However, if the property went up in value prior to her death and you each put money into the home, they will have a good argument that they are owed money.
You should talk to a real estate attorney in your area to go over your situation and find out how you should approach your ex’s family. If you do nothing, it will be years before you will be able to claim the home as yours. And in the meantime, you won’t be able to refinance the home and you won’t be able to sell it.
March 21, 2006.