Because of the current pandemic, many people are reviewing their Wills and Powers of Attorney (both medical and financial) to ensure everything is in order if the worst should happen. However, there are other documents which should also be reviewed.
Recently, a widow contacted our office. Her husband had died several years before. During his lifetime he had periodically updated his Will. Now, several years after his death, the widow tried to sell the house and the title company informed her the title was not clear. When refinancing their home many years ago, the title on the property was not returned to joint tenants with right of survivorship, which, at the husband’s death would have transferred the property to the wife. Instead they were listed individually, making them tenants in common. To transfer title after his death, the widow now must probate his estate – half of a house.
If your estate plan is designed so that probate won’t be required when you pass, then you may want to ensure that the deeds are still correctly titled so you won’t have any unpleasant surprises. This is especially important if you refinanced your home or paid off a mortgage and received a deed of reconveyance. Too often the title company or the bank does not return the title to the same as it had been before the refinance or loan.
This is of importance also if you had your home in a trust before the refinance and the bank insists that the house be titled to you individually in order for you to receive the loan. I have seen clients unpleasantly surprised to find that the house was never re-titled to the trust. When a spouse dies, half of the house must go through the probate process.
It breaks my heart when a probate must be filed when the couple had planned ahead to avoid probate. Not only has a loved one died, but now the survivor must handle the extra expense, time and burden of a probate. Locate your deeds and check the title. If you are unsure how to read it, contact a lawyer or title company to have them explain what the title means. A little research now may save a lot of heartache later.