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Real Estate Matters: Adult child deals with confusion over father’s estate more than a decade after dad’s passing

Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: My dad and I traded properties due to his health. When the title company did the deed, they put title to the property in both his name and the name of his home care lady. She was named as part owner of the property. Both my dad and his home care lady died more than 10 years ago.

I acted as my dad’s power of attorney. I had cataracts, making it difficult to read anything. Furthermore, I left it up to the real estate agent to make sure my dad’s name was on the deed, as I was named in his will as his sole heir.

Where we live, there is a new law allowing persons 65 years of age and older to get out of paying property taxes if your income is below a certain amount. I am 69, but the deed to the property prevents me from getting this tax status.

I went through probate court to try to change the deed. And, I contacted the real estate agent that put the property in the wrong name. He assumed the home care lady was my sister and said it wouldn’t matter that she was on the deed. But, she isn’t a blood relative of mine at all and came from Sweden. I need to change the deed. Can you help?

A: Your question is confusing: You and your father traded properties more than a dozen years ago, because of his health issues. But, it sounds as though you had health issues as well. In any case, your cataracts were so bad that you couldn’t read the paperwork that basically switched ownership of your properties.

Let’s start there — why couldn’t you and your father simply have lived in each other’s homes? Why did you feel the need to change ownership of the property?


By assigning ownership to each other, you effectively swapped ownership of the homes. We won’t go into the federal income tax implications of this swap, as there are a host of other more important issues to deal with here. Suffice it to say, you may have unnecessarily created a taxable event for yourself down the line.

If your father’s home care worker was inadvertently given a portion of the property, why didn’t this come to light when your father died a decade ago? At that time, you could have brought the matter to probate court and hired an attorney who could have helped you prove this was a mistake or fixed it at that time.

We suspect it never occurred to you that there was a problem with the title when your dad died. You simply thought you’d get ownership of the home upon his death. Here’s the problem: When your dad and the home care worker were put on title to the home, we don’t know if they were put on title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or with some other form of ownership.

When two or more people take title to a home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, and one of the owners dies, the survivor gets ownership of the entire home. So, if your dad died before the home care worker, the home care worker would have become the sole owner of the home. You’d likely get nothing unless she named you as her beneficiary. On the other hand, if the home care worker died first, your dad would have been the sole owner of the home when he died and you would have inherited the home upon his death.


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