Can I get my house back after deeding it to my children?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Twenty years ago, I had ovarian cancer and my husband had early onset Alzheimer's. I did not think I would live. I wanted my husband to be able to stay in our home as long as possible. However,if he had to go into a nursing home I knew that we would lose what savings we had but I could save my home by deeding it to my children, with life use. I did this. I took care of my husband for 12 years, then my middle son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. My husband was in final stages and I had to feed, dress and care for him in every way. He was incontinent for three years. Now my son needed me more then my husband did. I had to put my husband in a nursing home. I had to use our money except for my IRA and a small savings account. He was there not quite 2 years.

My husband died, ten months later my son died. Now six years later, I am 73, my home needs some repairs, I need some new appliances, and I would very much like to do a few things for me like travel and visit some friends and my grandchildren. I asked my (two remaining) sons to sign my home back to me. They refused. I am in shock.

They said they don't want a nursing home to get my home. I have never asked or accepted a dime from either of my sons. They are both very well off, and certainly do not need the money from my home.

I have given my life to my family and also worked at a job all my life, now I would like to spend a little time and money on me. My home needs some critical repairs, plumbing, outside repairs etc. plus I need a new washer and dishwasher. etc. My home value is approximately $125,000. Is there anyway I can get my home back?

With all the love I have given my family and always did the right thing for them first I cannot believe they are taking this stand. I cry myself to sleep thinking more of a breech this will create in my whole family. My husband and I bought this house, my sons have not one dime invested. I am at a point in my life that I would like to be able to pay for what I need done. I cannot even have my dental work done without financing it, then waiting till I get it paid for before I do the next crown.

I thank you in advance for any consideration you might give my question.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

There is no legal or financial answer for the worst of what you're feeling now: anger and frustration and hurt over what feels like your sons' mean-spirited refusal to give you the help you need. This perception may extend to more than their refusal to deed back the house to you, so you would be well-advised to take on the difficult task of dealing with this underlying resentment now.

Given the complications of the situation, the myriad emotions including guilt and resentment, and the sheer fatigue over it all that you may be feeling, it may be wise to get an objective party involved to help work out a solution. An experienced family mediator may be able to provide a safe place for all involved to vent their feelings, state the realities as they see them, and suggest possible solutions.

Beyond the essential part of working on the misunderstanding and mistrust, you might want to research ways that would allow the family members to hang on to the ownership of the house. This may be especially workable if your sons are not concerned about finances"”and truly are only concerned that the house will be taken.

One option may be a reverse mortgage, or a loan against the value of a home that does not need to be repaid until the owner leaves or sells it. The arrangement allows homeowners who are at least age 62 to convert equity in their homes into one-time or monthly cash payments or a line of credit. The loan advances are not taxable and generally do not affect Social Security or Medicare benefits.

There are potential drawbacks and pitfalls to the arrangement for some people, but for many, reverse mortgages provide immediate access to money they would not otherwise get. For more information on creative options for home ownership, contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at www.hud.gov.

Another possibility would be a trust that would protect the ownership, but allow use and enjoyment of it while possible. An experienced elder law attorney may be able to help with this as well as offer additional creative solutions.

Whatever course you choose, it seems essential to get an objective third party involved.