Q: A man proposed to my sister. They planned to marry and purchased a home together. But the way things worked out, they never got married. In fact, they never even lived together.
Here’s the problem. My sister never took steps to remove this man’s name from the papers on the house. She paid every penny for the house, and he paid nothing, not one red cent.
The house is completely paid for. He now wants her to sell the house and give half the money to him.
What can she do at this point to keep from having to give him half the profits of the house if she should sell it? My sister is now 73 years old with minimal income.
A: Your sister is in an unfortunate situation. Did they purchase the house recently? Or did your sister buy the home some time ago? Did the man pay any expenses towards the maintenance or real estate taxes for the home?
If the man paid nothing to buy the home, never paid any of the expenses for the home, and never lived in the home, then the question is determining what your sister’s intent was when she purchased the home and allowed this man’s name to be put on the deed.
Did she intend at that time to give him a gift of half of the home? Was the gift predicated on them becoming married? It might be fair to say that morally the man should not claim any interest in the home if he did not contribute to purchasing the home and never paid anything to maintain the home.
But legally it might not be so simple. If your sister intended to give him the gift, then he might have a claim for his share of the home. Certainly the circumstances surrounding the purchase of the home are important.
Most people that intend to marry and buy property together should make sure that their intentions are clearly known. It’s even better to state those intentions in writing and document what each party’s expectations are and financial and other contributions to the property will be.
One important issue you did not discuss in your letter is whether the home is owned by your sister and this man as joint tenants or tenants in common. If they own the home as joint tenants and the man dies, he and his estate would lose any interest in the home upon his death. But the same is true if your sister dies — he would become the sole owner of the home.
If they own it as tenants in common, she would always keep her share and he would always have his share. Upon either one of their deaths, his or her estate would receive whatever interest that person owned in the house.
You’re wise to try to resolve this issue now but it’s not an easy one to fix. Your sister might have to sue the man to void his interest in the home and claim the entire home as her own. Another option would be to give the man some money to transfer his interest in his home back to your sister. While it may seem like blackmail, it might be cheaper and easier than suing him to get the title in your sister’s name alone.
Finally, a skeptical and inquisitive person might try to determine whether this man has done this before to other women. If he has, you may be able to call the authorities and have them assist you in getting him out of the picture.
If his actions have been illegal, he might be more inclined to resolve the situation by quitclaiming his interest in the property back to your sister. If he has not done it before and it was purely a relationship that went sour, your sister might want to have a frank discussion with him and try to persuade him to do the right thing and return to her any interest he has in the home.