Real Estate Matters: Original deed doesn’t guarantee property ownership
Q: My father and I purchased a home together with his VA loan. I provided the money to assist in the purchase, but I am not on the mortgage. But the property is deeded to me. My father also refinanced the property before he passed. Is the original deed with my name on it still valid? The property is now in his estate, I still make the payments on the loan and want to pay off the loan.
A: We think you might be confused about a few issues. It seems that your father took out the VA loan and was the only person on title, even though you contributed to the down payment. Contributing the down payment doesn’t automatically entitle you to be on title to a property.
But you also say that the original deed to the property had your name on it. If your name was on the deed of the home when you purchased the home, you were an owner at that time. But you also said that your father refinanced the home before he died, ostensibly removing you from title. But you should have known that he was doing that, as you would have signed a document taking you off title.
So what’s going on here? Simply put, either your father was the sole owner of the home or you and your father were co-owners of the home. When we say co-owners, you and your father could have owned the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or as tenants in common.
If you both owned the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, upon your father’s death, you would have become the sole owner of the home. If the home (or a portion of the home) is now in his estate, it’s likely that the entirety of the home, or some portion of it, was owned by your father.
Also, while you were listed on the original deed, it probably wasn’t titled as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. More likely, it was originally titled as tenants in common, which means you owned a specific share of the property and your father owned the rest. It could have been a 50/50 split, or he owned 99% and you owned 1%.
In either case, you would be the owner of the entire property today unless (or until) your father’s estate transfers his ownership of the home to you. If your father’s will names you as his heir or the heir to the property, or his wishes were that you should become the sole owner of the home, you can then proceed to pay off the mortgage.
But to be safe, you should wait to pay it off until you know that you own the home in full. Otherwise, you might be paying off a loan for a property that belongs to a different heir.
Finally, you asked whether the original deed was still valid. Our concept of property ownership is one in which property goes from seller to buyer from the earliest of days through today. This means that the original grant of ownership from several hundred years ago would still be a document on the title to the property. It would still be a valid document. But it doesn’t mean you own the property right now.
If you were on title originally, then you would have had to release your ownership when your dad refinanced. Did you sign a piece of paper releasing your interest in the property? Otherwise, as an owner, you might have had to apply for and be approved by the mortgage lender to stay on title. Sometimes you don’t have to apply for the mortgage to be on title. But we don’t know your situation.
Let’s assume you were originally on title but you’re not now. The document that is most relevant to you is the most current deed. It would be this document that would either show you as a part owner of the home or not having any ownership interest in the home until you obtain title to the home through the probate of your father’s estate or by other means.
An estate or real estate attorney could guide you further.
(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through their website, bestmoneymoves.com.)
©2022 Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.