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Color of Money

Signing Over Property Often Means Signing Up for Trouble

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page E03

I recently received an e-mail from a reader who reminded me to remind you of why it's rarely -- if ever -- a good idea to include your children's names on the ownership title to your house.

"Three years ago my mother signed over her home to her children," the reader wrote. "There are six of us. She is now in a nursing home, and we would like to sell the home because we are getting older and live out of state and can no longer keep up with the maintenance or the taxes, etc. The home sits on beautiful property on the river. Four out of the six want to sell the home, but the other two are stalling with signing the papers. Is there anything that we four can do to speed up the process if the other two are not willing to sell or buy out the others at the going rate of the property?"

Honey, I Need Some Money!

It's time for the Color of Money "Honey, I Need Some Money!" contest.

Valentine's Day will be here soon, and nothing says love like an argument about money. So, write and tell me about the funny or frustrating ways you and your partner handle your finances.

Your entry may be used in a coming column, so it should be suitable for print (in other words, nothing that's going to wind up as evidence in divorce court).

Send in your entries by Feb. 5, and please include your name, address and daytime and evening phone numbers.

Winners will get a free consultation with a professional financial planner.

E-mail your entries to colorofmoney@washpost.com. In the subject line, please put "Honey, I Need Some Money Contest."

And even if you don't want to go public about your financial problems, tell me how you and your sweetie manage your money together.

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Elderly parents often sign over their home or add their children's names to the title to avoid probate, the legal process in which a court supervises the distribution of assets according to a will or as dictated by state law.

What they fail to consider is that once you put someone's name on your house, you have given him or her an ownership interest in your property.

To answer this reader's question I turned to two attorneys.

William J. Gessner of the Quinn O'Connell Jr. real estate law firm in Washington said that, given the situation presented by the reader, there is no quick way to force a sale or a buyout.

"Each of the siblings has an undivided one-sixth interest in the property," he said.

And you know what that means, right?

Yes, legal action.

Gessner said each of the owners of the house has the right to sue to have the property partitioned (divided) and sold. The proceeds of this forced sale would then be distributed to all owners.


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