Dad took his name off the title; now he wants to move back in!

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 17, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father is 76yrs old, he had some health problems about 5 yrs ago but is doing fine now. We purchased a home together when I returned from school. He met a lady and moved in with her and took his name off the title of our home. His lady friend passed away and he returned here with me. We have found that we can no longer live together and he's now saying this is my house. My question is: Can I move out and leave him there to live out the rest of his days in a home that is my name? what is the liability of that?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a 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.

You are wise to recognize when it no longer seems possible for you and your father to live peaceably under the same roof. And there should be fairly simple legal solutions to accomplish your wishes: allowing him to live in the house on his own until he moves out or dies. Which route you choose depends on a number of things"”including how much control you want to retain over the property during that time, where you live and exactly how the title is currently held.

First, you need to eyeball the actual title to the home and see who is the current owner. Lots of misunderstandings occur about this"”and the fact is too important and too easy to investigate to ignore it. Simply request a copy of the deed from the local land title or deeds department. In many places, you can even make the request online.

If you are the clear titleholder, one possibility may be to give your father a life estate in the home"”a simply procedure that requires changing the deed and recording it with the registrar of deeds or other title agency. A life estate in real property gives the person who remains in the home, known as the life tenant, a right to use the property during life, but no ownership interest in it. The person holding a remainder interest receives title to the property when the life tenant.

You must also be able to do the same thing by putting the house in trust, naming your father as a life beneficiary, then naming yourself or another person as final beneficiary to take the house outright once your father's life is over. Again, naming your father as life beneficiary doesn't give him ownership rights in the property"”only the right to live there or rent out the property during his lifetime. And putting the property in trust may also allow you to be more detailed about any conditions you would like to add as to what your father can and cannot do with the property.

The two of you should get clear on details of managing the property, such as who will be responsible for paying for maintenance and property taxes and such.

Because there may be complications in the wording and procedures of setting up these arrangements, you may want to consult an experienced estate planning lawyer to help finalize them. But spending some time getting clear on your wishes in advance should make the lawyer's work minimal and help hold down the legal costs involved.

Depending on other details in your own life and your father's life, you may also want to be sure that the plan for the property:

--Does not involve unexpected tax repercussions for either of you

--Does not jeopardize eligibility for benefits that may be needed, such as Medicaid or Medi-Cal, and

--What would happen to the property should you predecease your father.