Q: My husband died in 2013. After his death I learned that the title to our home we purchased when we got married was in his name only. The mortgage was in both our names.
I’ve been trying for nearly seven years to get the title in my name. The mortgage company isn’t helping, and I’ve paid an attorney thousands to help, but I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I’m in desperate need of getting this straightened out. Am I obligated to continue to pay this mortgage even if I really don’t own the home?
A: Sounds like this has been incredibly frustrating for you, and with some added details, we could provide more specific help. Instead, we’ll make a few assumptions and hope this gets you where you need to go.
For one, you say that the mortgage is in both of your names. Well, if the mortgage is in both of your names, the title to the property should have been put in both names as well. In some instances, you can have both spouses sign a mortgage with a lender and only have one borrower on the hook for the loan. Please check to see if your name is on the actual mortgage that’s filed or recorded on your home.
Next, we’d like to see you actually get a copy of the deed that placed your husband on the title to the property. It’s possible that you might not be listed on the loan documents (do you remember signing them?) as well as not being listed on title.
Having said that, he was your husband and it was your marital home. We don’t know if your husband had a will when he died. If he did and he gave you what he owned at the time of his death, you would have become the owner of the home through the will.
On the other hand, if he died without a will, the laws in the state in which the home is located would probably have given you at least one-half of the home. The other half would have gone to your children, if you had any, or his children, if he had any before he met you. While we don’t know what your relationship is with your kids — or even if you have children — you can work with them to give you full ownership of the home.
We’re at a loss as to why you’ve spent so much money trying to figure all this out unless there are other facts and issues involved. Otherwise, it would seem to us that you should be able to get full ownership of the home one way or another, especially if your adult kids (again, if you have any) work to help you out.
Ask the lender to send you a copy of the promissory note that you signed when you and your husband took out the loan. In most cases, the lender will deny your request if you are not on the loan and will grant it if you are. If you were the executor of your husband’s estate, the lender should respond to a request from the executor (with proper documentation).
Sometimes, attorneys and their clients don’t click. We suspect that you either have not received sufficient information from your attorney or the information you did receive isn’t clear enough for you to understand what is going on and why the process hasn’t moved forward.
So, if your attorney isn’t working out for you, it might be time to talk to someone else and get to the bottom of your situation. But, you’ll need to do a little legwork to figure out what the deed says about your ownership of the home, who the mortgage has as signing the document and whether your husband had a will or not at time of his death.
One last item, if you signed the mortgage and see your signature on that document, you may have owned the property when you signed those loan documents. You’d then have to see if your husband did something after closing on the loan to convey the title of the home from both of you to his name alone. (And, if you find out this happened, then you may want to ponder why he would do this and what he stood to gain from it.)
Finally, if you’re obligated to repay the loan and get to enjoy the use and benefits of the home, you can continue to make the payments and still live in the home. Good luck.
(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 her website, ThinkGlink.com.)