Couple may have trouble proving house they bought is theirs

February 22, 2013

We purchased a house in September 2011, in Minnesota. My fiancee’s great-grandmother is the one who took out the loan on our house, but we only wanted her to co-sign for us.

She passed away two months later and now the house is part of her estate. There is a mortgage on the house for 81 / 2 more years.

I’ve made all the payments, taxes and insurance since the purchase. Is the house mine? I was told that we’d have to go to court and prove that it’s our house and that our payments weren’t payments of rent.

The first question is who technically purchased the home? You said that you “purchased” the home and your fiancee’s great-grandmother financed it. You need to know whose name was put on the deed to the home. If your fiancee’s great-grandmother’s name was the only name listed on the title to the home, she became the sole owner of the home, according to the record books in Minnesota.

To avoid claims against people who have died or other title problems, you can expect that land records should reflect the true ownership of each piece of property in question. If you were to obtain a copy of a deed from the local office that stores the land records, you’d be able to see who owns a particular property, and you can research the chain of title back to the original grant of land.

If the land records show that you are not on the title, you then have to prove ownership rights through other means.

You might need to show that you put the down payment for the house together from your own funds. You should have records that show that you paid the money for the purchase of the home, along with the closing costs. If that money came from your bank account, you should have a paper record of all the transactions that went into the purchase of the home. You should also have a paper record of all the payments you made for the monthly expenses of the home. In a perfect world, you’d also have some written statement from the great-grandmother that confirms your ownership of the home.

Let’s look at a worst-case scenario: You didn’t pay any money toward the purchase of the home, the home is in your fiancee’s great-grandmother’s name, and you made monthly payments to your fiancee’s great grandmother and then she made the payments to the lender, to the tax collector and to the insurance company. If that’s the scenario, you might be in deep trouble.

If her family knows that the home was intended for you and they are willing to help you out as she was, you should end up fine. The estate can transfer title to the home to you and your fiancee, and you can someday refinance the loan and obtain a new loan in your name.

However, if the family is not supportive of your position, it will be your word against theirs,.

You need to determine what documents were signed and obtained when the home was purchased, what documents you have to prove your ownership, and how willing the family is to accept that you are the owner of the home.

You should also speak with a real estate attorney as soon as possible.

Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is “Buy, Close, Move In! Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. If you have questions, you can call Ilyce’s radio show toll-free (800-972-8255) any Sunday from
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her Web site, www.thinkglink.com.

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