Real Estate Matters: Parent experiences tricky real estate situation after son’s passing
Q: I was approved for a home loan, found a home and was ready to buy it. My son was one year into his army career, but didn’t have great credit. He heard about a plan for first-time homebuyers and applied for a loan in his name. He closed on the home I was going to buy.
We paid about $200,000 for the home and made around $25,000 of improvements to the home. I paid for the down payment for the home, the home improvements, the monthly mortgage, insurance, homeowners association and real estate tax payments. He lived in the house for five years and then moved out. He added me to the title to the home at that time and a year later gifted me the home and signed a paper showing that I had paid for the home improvements, the monthly payments and all the housing expenses.
He got married and he and his wife signed a document indicating that they had no interest in the home. Six years later, he and his wife moved into the home and they started making the payments on the home and paid me $20,000 as a down payment on the more than $50,000 he owed me. He and his wife lived in the home for eight years when he died.
In that time, the value of the home tripled but now a judge said that his wife only owes me $20,000 and took me off the title to the home. That seems unfair and wrong. What can I do?
A: We’re sorry for the loss of your son. Sometimes grief exacerbates issues that would, in other circumstances, be just about money.
Your question is complicated and we suspect that the facts of your ownership of the home may not follow the paperwork. Sometimes people think that by simply writing things down, their written word will be sufficient and they won’t need anything else to prove ownership.
You mentioned that you were approved for a loan but your son decided to buy the home due to his military status and his ability to obtain a mortgage benefit as a first-time homebuyer. We suspect that when your son closed on the home, he was the only person on the title to the property.
Later, you and your son made improvements to the home and you gave him the money to pay for those improvements. More on that in a moment.
It’s unclear from your letter how or if your name was actually put on the title to the home. Once your son closed on the purchase of the home and was the sole owner of the home; he would have had to sign legal documents to put you on the title to the home.
Later, you say that you were the sole owner of the home and your son and his wife signed something that stated they had no interest in the home. They signed something, but we suspect that they didn’t sign the kind of document that would have relinquished all of their rights to the home.