Q: About a decade ago, due to a health scare, I prepared a deed I found online and added my daughter’s name to my house. I thought this was good in case something happened to me. Now, I want to sell my home to downsize to a smaller condo, and my daughter won’t agree to sign unless I give her some of the proceeds. Is there anything I can do? — Millie
A: This is a situation I see all too often. A quick internet search can supply many ideas about avoiding probate and the complexity of proper estate planning. However, some of those ideas can have significant consequences.
For example, many web experts speak about putting your children “on your deed” and even provide a generic form to help make it happen. While it is a good idea to plan for your eventual demise and spare those you leave behind the expense and trouble of having to probate your estate, estate planning is a serious matter.
Using improper tools or even the proper documents prepared improperly can have serious repercussions. Recording a deed in the public records changes the ownership of your property and should not be done lightly.
Besides unnecessary expense and tax consequences, deeding someone else onto the title of your property makes that person a co-owner.
Now that your daughter’s name is also on the title to your property, you will need to gain her cooperation to sell. This may mean talking her into it or buying her out.
If she is not being reasonable about the situation, you may have to sue her for “partition,” which is a type of lawsuit where the judge divides ownership of a property by looking at how the property was purchased and maintained and deciding what is the fairest way to split things up. Eventually, you can remove your daughter from the title, but likely only after much expense and frustration.
An estate planning professional could have recommended other options to avoid probate and leave your property to your chosen heirs. There are methods such as “revocable trusts” and “enhanced life estate deeds” that could have accomplished your goals without you having to give up control over your property while you are alive.
Of course, these solutions must be set up correctly to work how you want them to, and an experienced attorney can help explore which options are best for your specific circumstances.
Board-certified real estate lawyer Gary Singer writes about industry legal matters and the housing market. To ask him a question, email him at email@example.com, or go to SunSentinel.com/askpro.