No one likes to think of material possessions at a time like this, but it has to be done. One example of this is the title to a home. When the homeowner dies, you may be wondering what happens to it.
The Leftover Spouse
First, let’s address the situation where a spouse may be left behind, as this is often the case. Despite conventional wisdom, that spouse doesn’t automatically inherit the title. Many times this question comes up because a parent is worried about whether or not they will be able to pass on their Ridgefield home (assuming they get to keep it) to their children. This is never an automatic and is something the parent will need to distinguish. We’ll cover that in a moment.
What happens to the title will depend on the way the property was owned.
Simply means one person owns the property. Their will should designate what happens to the title, otherwise it falls to the jurisdiction.
Tenants in Common
In this arrangement, two or more people hold the title. However, this doesn’t mean that they own it equally. A lot of times it’s a 50/50 arrangement, but other versions, like 90/10, etc. are common too. When one of them passes away, their piece of the property goes to their estate, which will decide what happens to it.
As the name suggests, this arrangement involves two parties owning a party jointly, thus they both have equal rights to the title. When one person dies, the rest of the property is automatically transferred to the other person. Many states require specific language in order to enforce this kind of living situation, but often the requirement isn’t overly stringent if someone passes away.
Tenants by the Entireties
This arrangement is a lot like joint tenants except that it’s reserved for married couples. With the laws that have gone into affect lately, it may extend to same sex couples, but you’ll need to check with state law—even if gay marriage has been legalized, it’s worth checking. Here’s an article on joint tenants for gay couples.
As with join tenants, if one spouse dies, the other automatically takes control of the title. No probate is required, as this is put into effect by the law automatically.
So the answer to what happens to a title after the homeowner dies has a lot to do with how the property was owned when the title holder was still alive. This is a good thing to check while you’re still living and it’s also something you should probably put in your will. Except in a couple exceptions outlined above, if you’re not explicit about your wishes for your property, the law will decide which will depend on the jurisdiction the property was based in. Find a qualified estates attorney and you should have nothing to worry about.
If you are in need of help selling your Ridgefield home, please feel free to call me (203) 731-7722.
~ Lonnie Shapiro ~