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What's in a Name? When Your Deed Can Leave a Mess for Your Heirs

My client’s grandmother passed away without a will. Therefore, under New York law, my client should have inherited the house and the investment property of her grandmother. Unfortunately, at the time of her death, the house was owned by the grandmother and her mother, the great-grandmother.

The great grandmother had three children, one of whom predeceased her, and had twelve (12) children of her own. So my client who thought that she inherited the property free and clear is now possibly the owner with at least thirteen (13) other owners because of the way the deed was titled between the grandmother and the great grandmother. Is this confusing? Yes. Worse is that the addition of a few words in the deed could have saved this family from this unintended consequence.

Now we need to locate all the grandchildren and possibly great-grandchildren as needed and obtain consent from all those individuals to be able to sell this property. It is a title nightmare.

In addition, who do you think wants to pay taxes on the property, make necessary repairs, heat the house, and maintain the property? Who has the incentive to pay out of their own pocket for the upkeep of the house until this legal quagmire is resolved? It feels like this ship has no captain. It is a legal predicament that requires court intervention and poses a financial burden on the one who takes the necessary step forward to hold the reins.

There is a simple lesson in this: A review of your assets and documents by a competent attorney as part of an estate plan is more cost-effective than leaving potential problems to heirs. It also avoids the emotional turmoil that family members will be subjected to on the back end. Call us to discuss how holding title to your assets can affect your estate plan and help avoid unnecessary delays for your family.