Q: My grandfather died in 1935 and left his home to my father in a will that was recorded in the county. My father and mother were married at that time my father received the house.

After my father died, my mother and I lived in the home. Later, when my mother died, I continued to live in the house. I’m single and never married. My two brothers are both married and have families, but they never questioned our mother’s will.

My concern is that Grandfather’s will left the home to my father, but there was no mention of my mother. Did she have legal ownership to the property after my father died? My father died without a will.

A: Based on the information you have provided, your grandfather’s home became your father’s home upon your grandfather’s death. If the title to the house was never changed and your father kept the home in his name and only in his name, upon his death, title to the house transferred in accordance with the laws of the state in which you live. Most states would probably transfer a half interest in the home to your mother and the other half to your father’s children.

You did not indicate what the disposition of the house was under your mother’s will. If your mother transferred her interest in the house to you, you would have only inherited her one-half interest. If your mother left the house to you and your siblings, her half interest would be partly yours and partly your brothers. Most likely under this scenario, the home would be one third yours and each of your brothers would also own a one third interest.

An important issue is when your mother died. Did she mother die over twenty-one years ago? If your mother died that long ago and you have lived in the house for that entire period of time to the exclusion of your siblings, you may have obtained ownership of the home through what is called “adverse possession.”

Adverse possession is a means the law uses to clean up title problems. In a nutshell, if you have lived in a property to the exclusion of other rightful owners and have deprived them of the right to use the property and they did not consent to your use of the home, and you paid the taxes and the maintenance on the home, the law will allow you to claim ownership of the home after a certain period of time, up to 21 years, depending on the state.

You should probably talk to an estate attorney about your situation. Take all documents you have relating to the home, the wills and other important house papers to the meeting. The attorney may have to do some digging to piece together this situation, but it would be well worth the money to figure out what you actually own.

Published: June 11, 2004