Q: My wife passed away last April. We are joint owners of our house purchased in 1975. I understand it is not a “transfer deed.” Would it be wise for me to obtain a certificate of title transfer now so my children will not need to deal with it upon my death?
A: My condolences on your loss. When husbands and wives own property jointly, they generally own the property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. As joint owners, when one of the joint owners dies, the surviving owner becomes the sole owner of the home.
Even though on the title records for the property, the deceases spouse’s name may still be listed, the surviving spouse is the only owner to the home. Yes, you could have a deed executed by your wife’s estate conveying any interest the estate may have to you, but that might not be legally necessary.
In certain cases, you can get a deed to change the name on the records for the property, but you would only want to do it that way if the expense is low and it would not cause other adverse issues relating to the property’s real estate taxes.
You should talk to a real estate attorney in D.C. to go over some of these issues. You can also go to your local real estate tax collector or treasurer’s office to determine if recording a deed would cause you problems down the road from a real estate tax perspective.
If you and your wife took title to the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, you shouldn’t have to take any additional steps to insure that you are the sole owner of the home. Certainly, if you make sure that your name is the only name on the title; your children will not have to deal with the additional documentation relating to your wife later on.
If there are no adverse real estate tax issues, the costs are low in recording a deed to put your name as the sole owner of title, and you are inclined to do it, you certainly can and it would be of some help to your children down the line.
You might want to talk to your estate planner or real estate attorney to determine if changing the title and recording a deed is necessary in your state or helpful to your children.