Q: I have a friend who is married. Her husband bought the house they live in before they were married and has not added her name to the deed. When they got married, she sold her house and moved in with him and used her house money to repair and fix up his house.

I think she has a problem because her name is not on the deed or anywhere on that house even though her paycheck goes toward paying for it also. What would happen if he should die or they divorce? He has two kids from a previous marriage.

A: I also think your friend has a problem. She has not thought about how she will be protected in case her spouse dies.

If nothing changes, and he dies, she might not be protected. As a spouse she might inherit half of the house and may have some other protections under her state’s laws. If her husband has no will, she would likely be entitled to half of the house. But if he has a will and the will states that the home is to be given to his kids, she’s going to have a problem.

If they divorce, and she can prove that her cash was used to pay for improvements to the property, then she might be able to get some of that back in the divorce settlement. But she’ll have to spend a lot on attorneys to make that happen.

What can she do? If her spouse is as interested in protecting her as she should be about protecting herself, there are several steps they can take: He can use a quit claim deed to deed the house from his sole ownership to joint tenancy with rights of survivorship or as tenants by the entirety (if the state in which you live allows this form of ownership). She’ll own half of the property and if he dies, she’ll get it all. They should have an understanding now about what he wants to do with the house. They are far better off having the discussion now rather than later.

Along the same lines, he can execute a will that gives her the ownership of the property after his death. Or, she can become a half owner of the home along with his children. He can also put the title to the home in a trust of which both of them are beneficiaries and his share of the trust could transfer to his children but the trust could provide that she would be entitled to live in the home as long as she wishes (also known as a life estate).

If her name is on the house and they divorce, she’ll have a good shot at getting something back in court.

In any case, your friend and her husband should talk to a real estate attorney or estate attorney immediately.