Transferring Property After Death

Transferring Property After Death: Sometimes you have to take a step back and take an objective look at your situation and what options are available. 

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Q: My great aunt helped my grandfather buy a home some years ago. She put the home in her name because his credit was shot and he couldn’t get a loan. 

The trouble started when my grandfather passed away six years ago. My mother has been talking to my great aunt about transferring the home into her name. My mom and I live in the home. But my great aunt won’t show up at the courthouse to sign the house over to Mom. 

Now, my great aunt is trying to sell the house. My mom offered to pay the price she wants to get the home put into her name rather than sell it to a stranger. How do I get the title to the house put into my mother’s name before my aunt sells our home of 13 years?

Look for Anything in Writing about the Purchase

A: We always feel bad when we get questions like yours. You may feel like the home is yours but in reality it’s not. It’s not yours now, and it never was your mom’s or your grandfather’s. The home was purchased by your great aunt (even if your grandfather put down some of the cash for the down payment) and she still owns it. While you have lived there for 13 years. Nothing in your email makes us believe that your mom has a right to the home.

Your grandfather was kind enough to work out an arrangement for you to have a home to live in for what seems to be a significant amount of time, but he didn’t work things out with his sister, your great aunt, while he was alive for your mother to eventually own the property. 

The truth is, you don’t know what arrangement he had with your great aunt. He may have put down money towards the home but he needed your great aunt to obtain the loan to purchase the home. Or, he might not have put any cash into the deal. Is there anything in writing referencing the purchase? 

Terms of the Ownership of the Home

It would be interesting to know how much money (if any) your grandfather put down towards the purchase of the home. And what his intentions were when he did that. It would also be good to know what he and your great aunt talked about in terms of the ownership of the home and how they would deal with your mom down the line. Those are important questions to answer in order to have some clarity going forward. 

At least with this information, you’d have a better understanding of whether they ever discussed whether your mom would ultimately be the owner of the home. Sometimes people make assumptions but those assumptions are not backed up by the actions people take or conversations they’ve had. 

Arrangement for Future Ownership of the Home

When they were closing on the property, your grandfather and great aunt should have made an arrangement for the future ownership of the home. He likely could have been on the title to the home even if his credit wasn’t great. He also might have been able to put your mom on title as well. There were many things that could have been done 13 years ago to prevent the situation you are now in.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what your grandfather and great aunt agreed to at the time of the purchase. We also don’t know what the arrangement was for your mom to stay in the home after his death. And, it’s unfortunate you, your mom and your great aunt are unable to work things out. This (i.e. money) is just the sort of thing that breaks families apart.

Take an Objective Look at Your Situation

Sometimes you have to take a step back and take an objective look at your situation and what options are available. 

First, does your mom have any rights to the home? The death of your grandfather wouldn’t have automatically conferred ownership of the property to your mom. Even if your grandfather had owned it. If your grandfather owned the home but had no will. It would have likely been inherited by all of his children or as provided under the laws of the state in which the home is located.

Once you determine whether you have a legal right to the home. Then you’d know whether you are more like a renter living in the home. As a renter, your rights are limited. The owner has the right to not renew your living arrangement at the end of a lease term. We suspect that your tenancy is more like a rental. That you don’t have a written lease and that your right to occupy the home might actually be on a month-to-month basis.

Calculate the Cost of Homeownership

You mentioned that your mom has offered to buy the home. You and your mom might want to sit down and figure out if she has sufficient funds to put down towards the purchase of the home. Would the monthly expenses of a new mortgage be manageable for her? Has she been paying all of the expenses of the home all along, including the real estate taxes, insurance premiums and mortgage payments? Or, has your great aunt accepted payments from her as rent. 

All of these questions are relevant to your situation. In looking at these questions and the costs involved, you and your mom may find out that moving is a cheaper option than owning this home. If buying is a better option, be sure to work with a good mortgage broker or lender who can help you run the numbers and calculate all of the costs of homeownership. 

Once you have your numbers straight, you might approach your great aunt with a solid offer to buy the home from her at a price she’d be willing to accept. Money frequently speaks for itself and if your great aunt is simply looking to cash out with the sale, she might be receptive to selling it to you. We hope things work out, and that you’re able to preserve your family relationships. 

©2022 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin.