What can be done?

Q: My wife and her sister are joint owners of a house and property left by their mother. The sister does not care anything about the property and pays nothing on the up keep of property. We pay all the taxes, home owner’s insurance and all utilities and have been doing this for 5 years plus. We made a fair offer to sister to buy her out and she refuses! Is there anything we can do to force her to remove her name from the deed or how can I get her to pay me back for all the money and upkeep we have put into house? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: I would show the deed to an attorney to check how you own the deed. If you are tenants in common, you can sell your half or bring an action in equity against her for reimbursement of your upkeep of her half. If you are joint tenants with rights of survivorship, your only remedy that I am aware is a partition action. These actions are rather expensive as you will need to pay for appraisals and pay a court appointed mediator to review the entire matter.

Is a quit claim deed valid if all the property transfer isn’t transferred?

Q: There is a property with right of survivorship and 3 siblings own it. One of them filed a quit claim and transferred their portion to someone without the other two knowing. I was told that that is not valid. However, is the quit claim part still valid? Will he have any rights to the property after signing a quit claim? (Murrysville, PA)

A: I think it depends how the property was titled. If it was jointly held by the siblings, as joint tenants, no one of sibling can transfer a share to anyone else without the other siblings joining in the deed. However, if the property is held as tenants-in-common, any one of the three tenants can convey his or her interest 1/3 to whomever they wish.

Can my boyfriend evict me from my house if we both own it?

Q: My boyfriend and I own a house. He owns 80% and I own 20%. I recently had a heart attack and am disabled. I have been the only one working for the past 16 years and we have two daughters that live in the home with us. He says because he is a majority owner, he can just kick me out. Is that true? (West Newton, PA)

A: What a guy. To answer your question, no. Based on your facts, I will assume you are in fact an owner as tenants in common. That is the only legal tenancy that would permit percentages to be owned. As having an equitable interest in the house, even if smaller than his, he cannot evict you from real estate that you own. If he persists being an 80% owner, strike a deal with him whereby you share the kitchen and bathroom, as they are essential, and section off 20% of the home with a TV, couch and your favorite amenities and stay away from him. The kids will probably hang out with you

Can my mom sell the house if dad’s name is still on it, but they divorced?

Q: My parents bought the house in 1977 and divorced about 10 years ago. Mom’s name was never removed from deed and dad passed away 4 months ago with no will. I am the only child and am ok with my mom selling the house. The deed doesn’t state anything about survivorship or tenants in common. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: If there is no written divorce settlement agreement that address how the house is to be distributed, upon the divorce decree, it changes from husband and wife tenants by the entirety’s property, to tenants in common property. As tenants in common, they each own a divisible equal share. This means your father’s share passed into his estate and will be inherited by the heirs he named in his will or if he had no will by his intestate heirs. If he did not remarry, then his intestate share of the house would pass to his child or children in equal shares. Your mother can only sell her 50% share. If you and your siblings if you have any, wish to sell you can sell if you wish. If you do inherit one half, you need to pay inheritance tax and should speak with a lawyer. I would check your mother’s records and if not check their divorce file with the Allegheny County Department of Court Records.

How can I pass an interest in my house to my children if my wife is on deed with me?

Q: I recently refinanced my home and deeded it as tenants in the entirety with my second wife. I have two adult children. I would like to have my children have interest in the property if I die before my wife. What is the best way to do this as she has no immediate family and I do not want the property to go to the state upon her death. (Valencia, PA)

A: Consult with a lawyer with whom you can share all the facts. If the house is now titled by the entireties, as husband and wife, the entireties tenancy can only be severed if the wife agrees to sign another deed, one of you dies or by court order. As tenancy by the entireties, your wife will inherit it from you when you die, and it will not pass to your estate. Therefore, you cannot pass it to your children in your will. The only way to pass an interest to your children is to draft another deed. I cannot advise which type of deed will be best for your situation, but the options would be to execute a new deed with or without your wife on it. Your children could have a tenant-in-common interest with you or you and your wife, or joint interest with you and your wife. You could also do a deed to your children with a life estate in the property granted to your wife. If she has a life estate, she can live in the property until she vacates the property or dies, then her life estate is extinguished, and your children’s interest becomes free and clear. You really need to consult with a lawyer who can advise after understanding all the facts. Additionally, you should seek approval from your mortgagee whenever you change the deed if there is a mortgage or HELOC in place.

What will happen?

Q: My Father is in his late 50s and not in the best health. He inherited my grandmother’s property some years ago. His girlfriend somehow signed her name onto the deed of the house during the transaction. My Father says he was unaware of. I’d hate to see this property go to this girlfriend if something were to happen to him. I asked him about a will and he said that’s not something a son should ask their parents. So, if my dad passes away, does the property and everything on the property go to the girlfriend because she’s on the Deed of the house? (Murrysville, PA)

A: I don’t know. I suggest having an attorney look at the deed. It should be on file in the Westmoreland County Recorder of Deeds. If her name is on the deed as an owner, she has some interest in the property. If she is a tenant-in-common, she will own a divisible one-half interest with your father’s estate when he passes. If she is a joint tenant, with survivor rights, she will own the entire property when he dies. If there is no mortgage or liens, she will own it free and clear. As far as trying to rescind the deed with the argument that she somehow got her signature on the deed without his knowledge, that usually is an uphill battle. However, an attorney examining the deed can determine if it was legally executed, discuss your father’s competency at the time and perhaps shed some light on the situation for you.

Property in both of our names

Q: My boyfriend threw me out of the house and said that the property is his now because I traded him a car for it. This is not true, it never happened nothing is in writing. We both made payments on the mortgage and taxes. How should the court handle this situation? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: Whoever is on the deed owns the house. If your name is not on the deed and his is, you don’t have claim unless you are married to him. If you are on the deed with him as an owner, he cannot remove you from the deed without your signature. More information is needed-is the property held as joint-tenants with right of survivorship or as tenants-in-common? Is there a mortgage? I suggest you speak with a lawyer.

What happens when one heir is bequeathed the title of a house and another heir an equity stake?

Q: My grandmother recently passed away. My grandfather passed away a few years ago and my mother, also the executor of her will, is her only child and has always lived with my grandmother in her house. In her final will my grandmother left my mother the title to the house with a 40% equity stake bequeathed to me. If my mother has zero intention of selling the house (which is paid in full), does she have to “buy me out” of the 40%? How exactly does this play out? I know that my mother inherited more than enough to cover my portion from my grandmother’s retirement accounts but she is so absolutely outraged that she wasn’t left the house 100% that she won’t include me or inform me of anything that’s going on with the estate/probate process. The estate lawyer never returns my phone calls either. I can only seem to find information when inherited houses are split equally among heirs. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A:  As mentioned, you need your own lawyer to look at the deed and the will. If the estate lawyer will not give you a copy, you can get a copy of the deed in Department of Real Estate in the County Office Building and a copy of the will, assuming it has been filed, in the Register of Wills which is in the City-County Building. Both are in downtown Pittsburgh. Based on what your limited information, it sounds like there will be a deed coming from the estate to your mom and you, 60% to her, 40% to you. I will assume the new deed will list both of you as tenants in common. Yes, unless the will directs otherwise, for example, a life estate to your mother, then you have a divisible interest in the house and can therefore try to force her to buy you out. If she will not agree to a buy out, you can file a partition action which is expensive and time consuming and should be a last resort. I think you need a lawyer as there may be other options. For example, she can grant a deed to you reserving for herself a life estate. This would allow her to live in the house until she is no longer able to or dies, then full title would pass to you. More information is needed to fully advise, but you should seek a legal opinion.

Do I need both signatures?

Q: I have been living in a mobile home with my mother for the past six years. She just recently passed away and the mobile home is in both her name and her ex-husbands. He wants to pay off the mobile home and sell it. Are both their signatures needed to sign the title over? (West Mifflin, PA)

A: You need an attorney to look at their divorce papers as well as the title to the mobile home. The divorce papers can be found in the Department of Court Records in the City County Building or you may be able to access them at the Allegheny County DCR website. Many divorces end with a settlement agreement which spells out each party’s rights in regards to property. If there is no such agreement, then the answer lies in how the mobile home was titled. If it was titled as husband and wife, it would have been held by the entireties (survivorship) up until the divorce. The divorce would have severed the entireties and then the mobile home by operation of law would have been held as tenants in common. Tenants in common is a joint interest with no survivorship. Therefore, if this is the case, the ex-husband and your mother’s heirs now own it. The ex-husband needs the signature of your mother’s estate. Again, the paperwork needs to be looked at before this advice can be followed.

Is there a difference in between “joint tenants with right of survivorship ” and “joint tenants.”

Q: Is there a difference in Pennsylvania between “joint tenants” and “joint tenants with right of survivorship”? I am trying to determine how my mother’s property is titled and I keep seeing of these terms for the same property.

A: I do believe that the correct legal terminology is “joint tenants with right of survivorship.” However, I see the wording “joint tenants” used commonly to mean the same thing as an abbreviated version. I am unaware of any different legal meaning. For a more specific answer, I can offer the following. In PA there are three general types of common (joint) ownership of real estate. First, there is tenants-in-common, which is like a plain general partnership and the heirs of any given member of the tenancy, would inherit the other person’s share upon their death. Second, there is tenants-by-the-entireties, how property of spouses is held, where each spouse owns an undivided half of the real property acquired by the spouses and, upon the death of one spouse, the other spouse owns 100% of the property by operation of law. The last, joint-tenants with the right of survivorship, is similar to tenants by the entireties in that the surviving tenant gets the share of a deceased tenant. However, unlike entireties property, unmarried joint tenant’s shares are not protected from their individual creditors.