Divorcee: Pay me to release title
published Tue, 24 Mar 09 11:05:23 -0700

Ilyce Glink
Inman News

Q: I had some issues with the title of a house when I was in a relationship with my ex-spouse. I was not married at the time we purchased the property, but since the plan was to get married, I added her to the title (she was not contributing financially towards the property). Anyhow, things didn't work out between us. She demanded that I pay her to quitclaim the property back to me.

I went after her using my attorney and the courts. She finally just sent in the quitclaim and this deed has also been recorded in the county clerk's office (after which they sent me the original quitclaim document).

Is there anything I need to do beyond this to protect myself? Once the quitclaim deed is recorded, does the recorder's office make updates to the title of the property showing only my name? And if so, how long does it take for them to complete the update? Will they mail a copy of the new deed to me or is the filing notice all the paperwork I need?

I'm wondering if I can terminate my lawyer's services or if I have to wait for any other updates.

A: You now know it was a mistake to re-title your condo before you were married. But once you got married, you still might not have had to change the title to the property because it was an asset you purchased prior to your marriage. You could have simply changed your will to reflect your wishes that your wife inherit it, should something have happened to you. Going forward, you should rethink how you will handle the same issue.

To your question: Once the quitclaim deed has been recorded, the title to the property should effectively be in your name. Unlike car titles, you won't get a document showing you holding title to the home.

You can go to the recorder of deeds office and check the records directly. At that office you will find a long chain of documents that will trace ownership of your home -- from each seller to each buyer. In your case, when you purchased your home, you would see the document that transferred title from your seller to you. Among other documents, you would then find the deed that placed your ex-spouse on title.

You may even be able to access this information online, since many documents filed with the recorder of deeds office are now available to the public through the recorder of deeds Web site or any other office responsible for recording these documents.

Since you now have an ex-spouse, I assume you were divorced. If you got divorced, you should be done with any legal issues relating to your ex-spouse. One issue that you could still have relates to any judgments or tax liens that may have affected your ex-spouse. The act of transferring title back to you by quitclaim deed or other means would not terminate any third-party creditor rights against the property.

If your ex-spouse had no liens against her, when she quitclaimed the property back to you, you received all that she had. In that case, you most likely should be fine. If you need more information, you should talk to a real estate attorney. ...CONTINUED

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Q: My credit score is 639 and I am a government retiree who met retirement qualifications at 55. My income is $40,000 annually and I would like to purchase a condominium because I don't want to worry about yard upkeep and I live alone. Should I contact a developer or FHA to inquire about purchasing a property?

A: Neither. You need to figure out what neighborhood you want to live in and then find a great real estate agent who understands what is happening with home values there.

The agent you choose to work with should be a great listener, and work with people who are around your age and earn what you do. Your agent should be your eyes and ears in the neighborhood, so look for someone who has been working in your neighborhood of choice for some time, who is well-positioned to help you find a great deal.

Once you find a great agent, you'll want to put together other parts of your home-buying team, including a good mortgage lender. Talk to a loan officer at a credit union (if you belong to one or can join one) because credit unions typically offer great deals on mortgages and car loans. You should also talk to a national lender and a local mortgage broker. By shopping around, you should get the best deal available.

Before you go out looking for a condominium to buy, you should understand that your credit score is relatively low. While in past years, having a low credit score may not have been an obstacle to purchasing a home, your score may cause you to pay more to close the loan when you purchase the condominium and it might mean that you will also pay a higher interest rate on any loan you obtain.

You might want to try to figure out why your credit score is so low and work to improve that score. Once the score is higher, you might find that the costs of owning the condominium -- should you decide to finance your purchase -- will be lower.

Start by checking your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com and try to figure out why your credit score is low. If you have too much debt, too many outstanding bills, missed payments, collection issues or bills that you are paying over time, you might need to clean some of these items up to improve your score and have a better time of obtaining a loan.

You can also sit down with a good mortgage lender and work through some of your credit issues. If you know what your issues are, you might find that over six to nine months, you might be able to improve your score by paying off debts or paying down credit-card balances.

Once you know how much you can spend and what it will cost you to finance the property, and figure out what neighborhood you want to live in and find the right agent, you'll be ready to start looking for a home to buy. ...CONTINUED

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Q: My friend and I own a home together as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. If he should die before me, I realize the home becomes mine. But what happens to the interior furnishings? Do his three children have a right to come and remove their father's half of the furniture?

A: The furniture is not part of the house. It is considered to be the home's "contents" or "personal property" (as opposed to real property, which is the property). His children would be entitled to remove their father's furniture and any other belongings stored in the house if he left it to them in his will.

Personal property gets distributed to heirs in the manner provided by state law or as designated by a will. If your friend has a will, he can designate what items of personal property will be yours and what items of personal property will go to his children. If there is no will, state law may provide that all of his personal property goes to his kids, in which case you would be out of luck.

While not legally binding, your friend can also write a letter to his children asking them to respect his wishes and allow you to keep certain items. In the case of sentimental items, that same letter may ask you to return certain items when you move from the home, when you no longer need them or upon your death.

If you'd want to keep the furniture, you and your friend could write out an agreement that allows you to either keep the furniture outright or buy his share in the furnishings from his children. If you and your friend don't have a written agreement when he dies, you can ask your friend's children to allow you to make them an offer to keep certain pieces. But if anything seems valuable or memorable to them, be prepared for them to turn you down.

There are quite a number of ways to handle your situation, but only a properly drafted will can achieve your friend's and your wishes.

Follow-up: I heard back from the writer who said that she was going to have her friend write and execute a will that would give her the first right of refusal over the furniture.

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