House title: How do I get title to my house?

Q: My mother died two years ago. She owned property but couldn’t find a will. We know her wishes were for me to move back home to take over the property, pay the bills and do the upkeep on the property. We don’t know where her house title is.

How does house title get transferred?

Here’s my question: How do I get title to my house? My mother didn’t want to leave her home to my brother. He knows this and so far it hasn’t been a problem. But because my mom didn’t have a will, I don’t know how this will play out.

I’ve spent a lot of time and money making repairs, and paying the bills and property taxes. My brother is always welcome to visit but my mom felt she couldn’t trust him to keep the home in the family for generations to come. What should I do?

A: You’ve waited two years to ask this question, and we have no idea why. Well, it’s past time for you to hire an attorney and get this done. The more time passes, the more things (and people’s minds) can change.

House title transfers automatically if you’re joint tenants with rights of survivorship

It’s quite unfortunate that your mother never wrote up a will, put the property into a living trust or took any other measures to insure that the property would become yours once she died. What you need to do is hire an attorney who can assist you in having the title to the home transferred into your name. The process will likely require your brother’s cooperation and your brother may have to formally decline his share of the property. The legal term is that he would “disclaim his inheritance.”

Sole owners without a will: State law will dictate how house title transfers

You should know that now that your mom has passed, the title to the home would normally transfer as required under the laws in the state in which the property is located. Usually when a person dies, the property they own goes to their spouse and children. If they don’t have a spouse, then to their children. But there are some differences in each state’s estate laws and you need to ask the attorney what the law provides for in your state.

Probate court is where house title can change

The attorney may need to open an estate in probate court to have the title to the property transferred from your mom’s name into your name. Once the probate case starts, your attorney will ask your brother to sign some documents that would allow the home to go into your name. Given that you’ll need your brother’s cooperation through the process, you should get this done as soon as possible.

To avoid the hassles of transferring house title, set up a living trust

When you’re talking with the attorney, you might ask if it’s worth setting up a living trust for the property. Since this is a property your mother wanted to stay in the family for generations, you could name yourself as trustee and beneficiary. If you want, you can name a successor beneficiary, so the property would flow to that person automatically upon your death. Since you’re going to all this trouble now, it would certainly make future transfers easier.

A final reminder: People can and do change their minds for all sorts of reasons. If you don’t take care of the paperwork as soon as possible, it’s possible that your brother might want something from you in exchange for the home. Then, you’d have to start negotiating how much you have already paid in maintenance and upkeep costs versus the value of the property the day your mom passed.

So, while he is in agreement that the property should belong to you, secure his cooperation now and have the title transferred according to your mother’s wishes.

Good luck and thanks for your question.


Read more about house titles:

What to Expect Searching Your Home’s Title Online

Transferring Ownership of Property to Family

©2023 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.