The way you choose to title your property can have far-reaching consequences. Not only are there different ways to hold property but your ability to control the property may be limited and you may not even realize it.
One way to hold title is as “Tenants in Common”. I often see this type of titling used when siblings or heirs inherit property from the settlement of an estate. What makes tenants in common unique is if you own the property with one other person, you only own the percentage designated – let’s say 50%. You do not have rights of survivorship to the other person’s share, which means you will not automatically receive the property upon the death of the other tenant. You may receive it through a will or the laws of intestate succession, but that can be lengthy, expensive and subject to claims of the decedent’s creditors.
If you were unaware of your interest in the property, as was the case with my client, then you may find yourself in a quandary. Let me give you the facts. Ms. Woods (the names have been changed to protect client anonymity) owned a home with her sister, Ms. Silver. Ms. Silver went into a nursing home as a private pay patient; meaning that she was not receiving any government or other assistance towards the cost of her care. Ms. Silver died without a Will, leaving an $80,000 debt to the nursing home. My client, Ms. Woods, came to my office upon receiving a Notice of Court Hearing attempting to force the sale of her home to satisfy the claim of the nursing home. I explained to Ms. Woods that she only owned 50% of the house and since this was the only valuable asset her sister left, the nursing home had a right to file a claim against the estate and petition the court to force a sale of her house. The bottom line is that if the intent of the parties is to create rights of survivorship, it needs to be expressed in the way it is titled in the deed.
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