Q: Years ago, I bought my mother’s house and then made the mistake of getting married for a second time. His name is second on the title to the property.
A few years later, I was convinced to take out a home equity loan but was too stupid to see that this only added another $350,000 to what was, at the time, a $130,000 mortgage.
We are now 55+ years in age, I have since retired and am on disability. But my husband has been pressing to consolidate these two loans and the bank wants to change the title to his name first, which annoys me because he has not been faithful.
I thought about divorcing, but I have medical issues to contend with first. My will has been adjusted to take care of my own family, consisting of a brother and his children, who are now adults with family of their own.
I have more IRA money than he has, and he is more than anxious about producing a death certificate to my financial advisor. But when he does, he will find out that he is not the beneficiary of my investments.
My husband is not home most of the time because his work takes him out of state. I’ve put up with it and never thought he would hurt me but he did. It is a pretend marriage. Because he has threatened that he could leave anytime he wanted to, I had kept the arrangement as it was.
I recently asked him to start paying for the utilities for a change, but I still pay the property taxes out of my monthly disability SSD payment and a pension, leaving me with very little other than the IRA which could pay for the house to date, yet I’m not 66 which would be my normal retirement date if not being disabled.
Does the loan consolidation have to change the property’s title? We are supposed to have a joint checking account and joint finances, yet he excludes me from knowing balances and expenses. I smell something wrong with this and need advice.
A: You have a very complicated situation, and we’re not sure that you should be consolidating, or rather refinancing, this loan at all.
Let’s start at the top. This was your mother’s house that you bought. When you got married for the second time, you should have had a pre-nup (a legal agreement that named all of your assets that you brought into the marriage and kept them separate from marital assets). If you had had a pre-nup, you wouldn’t have to worry that your husband would somehow be able to get his hands on it.
Your situation today is difficult because assets haven’t been kept separate and because you are in financial and medical trouble. You say you want out of your marriage, and yet you haven’t taken any steps to move forward on that. Why would you stay in this marriage if your husband is away for most of the time, won’t contribute to paying the bills, and won’t allow you to see what the true numbers are? He may have stolen a ton of money from you over the years, and you don’t know.
Before you sign any more legal documents (including refinancing your mortgage), you need to find a good attorney who can help figure out what’s happening to you. You should probably find a divorce attorney but a real estate attorney can help with the immediate issues.
You might consider a divorce attorney first for some advice. If your gut tells you that the situation “smells” it probably does. Putting his name first on the mortgage isn’t the same thing as changing the title to the property. Do you still own the property on your own and he has just been named on the mortgage? If he is named on the mortgage only, then you don’t have a problem. You still own the house. Having his name first means the bank can come after him first for payment.
You should also know that the order of the names on title will not matter. But if your name and his name are already on title, there would be no reason to change the title to the property. Your statement makes us wonder how you own title to the home and what the true intentions are in your situation.
If he is truly on title, as you say in your letter, and you own it as joint tenants (with or without rights of survivorship), then you will need to figure out what it will take to get him to leave the property and walk away. You might have to pay him something, but since you’re disabled, a good attorney may be able to make the case for spousal support. The upshot is you might be able to negotiate something that works for both of you.
Once you legally separate from your husband, if that’s what you choose to do, and file for divorce, you can start to reclaim your financial life. If you have enough cash to pay off the mortgage to the property, then you can liquidate your IRA and do that if you want. Or, you can just take out enough to make the monthly payments. In any case, the goal is for you to own your mother’s house on your own again, get the medical help you need to make your physical disabilities work for your life, and move forward.
It all starts with you getting appropriate counsel and figuring out what is exactly going on in your marriage. Good luck. You’ll need it.