How do I take over ownership of my parents' home after Dad's passing?

Moonwilliow asked...

If my mother still owes on her house, can I take over and keep the house? My dad passed away two years ago. What can I do to to get his name off and put my mom's on top, then mine?

Expert Answer

Steve Weisman hosts the nationally syndicated radio show A Touch of Grey, heard on more than 50 stations, including WABC in New York City and KRLA in Los Angeles. He is a practicing lawyer specializing in estate planning and is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He's a public speaker and commentator who has appeared on many radio and television shows throughout the country, and he's the legal editor of Talkers magazine, the preeminent trade publication of talk radio. His latest book is The Truth About Avoiding Scams.

Where a name appears on a deed is not important. What is of importance is who are named as the owners of the property and the manner in which they hold their title. Co-ownership of property can be done as tenants in common or joint tenants with the primary distinction being that with a joint tenancy, if one joint tenant dies, the other becomes the sole owner of the property. Assuming your father and mother owned the property as is commonly done by husbands and wives either as joint tenants or as tenants by the entirety (a special form of joint tenancy restrticted to husbands and wives)when your father died your mother became the sole owner of the property. You have a number of options including having your mother add you as a joint owner of the property or she could keep a life estate in the property and give or sell you a remainder interest in the property. If there is still a mortgage on the property, there could be a provision on the mortgage that if she conveys any interest in the property, the mortgage becomes due. This is not likely to be a problem if you are being added to the deed, however. The bottom line is that this is a very complex situation legally with income tax, liability and estate tax ramifications. You should speak with a lawyer to discuss what is your best course of action. The good news is that although this is a bit complicated legally, it should not be either expensive or time consuming to establish ownership of the proeprty in a form that meets your family's needs.