Buying a home is an exciting time for most people however in some purchases one important step can easily be overlooked or forgotten.  How you take title to your new home can be a blessing or a curse to your family or heirs when a sudden unexpected death occurs.  If you do not understand this one topic please get legal advice from a qualified real estate attorney for your specific circumstances. 

Recently, I had a past client contact me in a panic over the fact that she just found out her home was titled in her husband’s name only following his unexpected death.  They purchased the home about 6 years earlier and at the time the wife was self employed and unable to benefit them in qualifying for the loan so the husband was the sole name on the contract and home loan.  I’ve encountered this situation a number of times in my career where one spouse is on the loan and the other is not.  Typically, at closing or in advance, a title insurance company will seek written instructions from a home buyer as to how they want to take title and in this case they did but the instructions were ignored or overlooked. In most cases a husband and wife will take title as joint tenants with rights of survivor ship which means upon death of one co-owner, his or her interest in the property passes to the surviving co-owner or owners…without probate.  In this case the title company ignored or overlooked the husband’s written instructions to take title with his wife as Joint Tenants, which would have given her rights of survivor ship.  Consequently, the wife may now be subject to the time and expense of going through an unnecessary probate.  We’re hopeful there will be title insurance coverage for this error but the added stress and inconvenience is an unnecessary burden given all she has been through.  

Something that would have taken a just a few minutes to do and added little to no additional cost may turn out to be very time consuming, expensive, and frustrating.

In closing the lesson here is to take responsibility for your estate by reviewing how you hold title on any real estate holdings and, if needed, seek legal advice onhow to protect your family in the event of an untimely death.  Your family or heirs will be most grateful for your advance planning, love, and  thoughtful consideration in this matter.