Q: Since my father died, my mother takes care of all the bills including the mortgage on the home. The mortgage is in his name.
Her name wasn’t on the mortgage or deed, but I would like to know what would happen if she dies. Would we have any problem taking care of the house because title is still in his name?
I have five siblings. My mother is trying to make sign papers stating that all six of us would have to come to an agreement regarding the estate.
A: I’m sorry for your loss. If your father owned the home in his name alone, at the time of his death the laws in the state in which he lived would provide how title of the house would transfer. If he had a will, the will should have specified who would inherit the house.
If he did not have a will, then the laws of that state will tell you how title will be transferred. In your case, many states would provide that half of the interest in the house would go to your father’s wife at the time of his death. So your mom would have inherited half of the home. Likewise, many states provide that the rest of the interest in the home would go to your father’s children. Thus, your mother would end up owning half of the house and your father’s children would each own one-twelfth of the house (that’s one-sixth of the half of the home that passed to you and your siblings).
If that’s the case, you all will need to come up with some sort of arrangement regarding the disposition of the home and other assets your dad had upon his death.
Take a look at the document your mother has presented to you. You and your siblings will have to sit down and agree how to handle the estate anyway. The paperwork she is giving to you may be to your benefit, and could ease the estate work necessary once she has passed.
On the other hand, the document may say something entirely different from the way it is being presented to you. Please read it and if you don’t understand it, seek the advice of an attorney.
Assuming that you and your siblings own half the property, and you want your mother to be able to continue to live in the property, all of you should sign a document that gives her the right to stay in the home for as long as she wants.
But what happens if she moves out of the house into a nursing home or passes? Then you might want to know what to do with the home. The right sort of paperwork might avoid prolonged and agonizing decisions later. If you all agree that the home should be sold at some time in the future and you agree which one of you will have the right to decide when and how to sell it, you will have a plan that you can follow.
A plan, any plan, sometimes is better than no plan. If all of you need to decide, some of you may want to wait to sell, others may never want to sell, and still others may want to sell now.
Please consult with an attorney for more details.
April 10, 2008.