Q: My elderly cousin lost her sister that lived in New York City in 2008. Her sister had no assets except a condominium located in Washington, D.C. My cousin has lived in the condominium and has been paying all of the expenses for the condo since it was purchased.
My cousin that lives in the condo had her sister take title to the condominium to help out and because my cousin that lives in the condo spoke little English.
My deceased cousin is survived by her husband and a son that can’t be located. The husband has no problem letting the cousin that lives in the condo keep it. I helped her consult with an estate lawyer who suggested a quiet title action or that she should ask the husband to inherit the condo and then transfer title to my cousin. But the husband refused for fear of disqualifying him for low rent housing in New York City. What can my cousin do that won’t cost her much money?
A: The cousin that lives in the condo talked to an estate lawyer, but you might want her to talk to a real estate attorney. You indicated that your cousin basically died owning only one asset: the condominium.
Did your cousin have a will? If under the laws of D.C., your cousin’s husband would inherit the property from his wife, you might be able to work with a title insurance company to determine what options might be available to the cousin that lives in the condo.
In some states, small estates that have few assets can be handled outside of the probate court. Probate court is the court that handles the distribution of assets and settles an estate when people die.
While you could go to probate court and have your cousin’s husband open the estate and have the condominium transferred to your cousin that lives in the condo, it could take time and may require some legal assistance and costs that your family does not want to incur.
But if you talk to a real estate attorney or title company representative, you might find that the husband might be able to quit claim any interest he has in the condominium to your cousin that lives in the condominium. There may be some other formalities, but it might be quicker and more cost effective than some of the others.
If the only way you can transfer title from the husband to the cousin that lives in the condominium is by going through probate or obtaining a court order conveying title from deceased person to the cousin living in the condominium, then you may be out of luck and have to go that route.