Q: I have a friend whose husband died suddenly at age 44. She has 3 children: one who is 21, one who is 17, and one who is 16 years old. She wants to add all their names to the deed of her home. She has been told she cannot add the minor’s names to the deed.

I disagree with this information. It’s my understanding a minor may receive title but cannot transfer title.

So if the survivorship deed is made – and my friend lives 2 years – all is right with the world. If she dies before the girls turn 18, then the older child would simply have to wait until the girls are 18 to sell the home.

That’s what she wants to accomplish. Does this sound right? We live in Ohio.

A: My father dropped dead at the age of 49 (my mother was 45 at the time), so I am quite familiar with the stress and anxiety your friend is feeling. But instead of jumping to the wrong conclusion, it’s smart to think about what she needs to do overall and help her work through each step in a rational way.

First, it’s not a good idea to put real property or any assets into a minor’s or child’s name while you’re still alive. Whether or not she can is beside the point. If she quit claims her interest in the home to her children, her 21-year old can decide to sue her to force the sale of the home at any point in time (not that she would, but she can). Your friend would lose control over a major asset – that’s not a good idea.

There are also estate issues to consider. If she transfers title to the kids, and something happens, the kids may have to pay all kinds of taxes on the property. If they inherit the property, they’ll inherit it at the current market value the day your friend dies (which hopefully won’t be for a long time in the future). If they sell it for that value, it’s very likely there will be no tax to pay. They’ll get more of the value of the home – and they’ll need every penny.

Your friend should spend some time with a good estate attorney developing an estate plan that will cover all sorts of issues, including one where something tragic happens and she is alive but no longer able to make financial or health decisions for herself.

At the most basic level, my guess is that a good estate attorney will draw up a trust and put the house into the name of the trust. Your friend should also put her major assets into a trust (a revocable trust). The kids should be named beneficiaries of the trust. There should be a trustee named to oversee it. If she dies, the property would be held in trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries, and can be sold, rented, etc.

She also needs to name a guardian and successor guardian for her minor children. She also needs a will and a power of attorney for health care and financial matters, and a living will. Depending on how set she is financially, she may also need to purchase life insurance, in order to make sure her children are taken care of should something happen to her.

If it will make her feel better, her estate plan can include funeral arrangements as well. (Please see my site, www.thinkglink.com for extensive information on funeral planning and estate planning.)

An estate attorney can help her set this all up and do it according to Ohio laws. The attorney can probably put your friend in touch with a fee-only financial planner, who will help her analyze and manage her financial resources.

If your friend doesn’t know a good estate attorney, you can help her find one by calling the local bar association and asking for a referral. You can even ask for the head of the estate law committee, and talk to that person (who should be extremely knowledgeable).

None of this will be easy. A lot of it will be incredibly difficult and emotional for her. You can help by encouraging her to see it through from start to finish, reminding her that she must do what she can to protect her children going forward.

Please forward my condolences to your friend. She may benefit from reading my book: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Disaster-Proof Your Finances, available for free (plus shipping and handling) on my website. I hope this helps.