Multi-Generational Living Arrangements & Home Ownership Rights

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Today’s modern families are ever-shifting in a multitude of directions, some of which were made possible by the evolution of our nation’s legal system. Still other present-day families form when an adult “child” returns to live at home after attending college, job loss, divorce, or simply by choice. Additionally, many older parents live with a daughter or son and their family in order to cut costs and to share child-rearing duties of the next generation.

Regardless of the reason, the changing structure of the typical American family can raise some questions about ownership of the family home. When other adults outside of the original home owner live together, what are their rights if that homeowner passes away?

Example: Single mom Nicole and her mother decide the best course of action after Nicole’s divorce is for the two of them to move in together. Nicole’s husband kept the marital home, so Nicole and her two children move into her mother’s more-than-ample house. As Nicole’s father passed away several years ago, this decision will allow companionship for Nicole’s mother, and will relieve the financial burden on both women.

Something important for Nicole and her mother to think about is what will happen to the home when Nicole’s mom passes away? Assuming the current living situation continues until such a time, what will Nicole’s rights be?

In New Jersey, Nicole and her mother can modify the home mortgage paperwork to include special language that will protect Nicole and her children from losing the home upon the death of her mom. The deed to the home must say that Nicole and her mother are joint tenants with right of survivorship.

Joint tenancy means that both parties named own the property equally, and upon the death of one of them, the deed to the home will automatically transfer to the other, superseding anything that is stated in the decedent’s will.

If Nicole’s mother had previously created a will indicating that upon her death, her home should be divided equally between all three of her children (Nicole and her two siblings), as long as the proper language was added onto the title documentation, Nicole should have no problem being granted full ownership of the home.

While in theory this is a relatively simple concept, it must be handled with the utmost seriousness and attention to detail.  As has happened in the past, if the joint tenancy language is not used precisely as required, legal disputes can and likely will arise.

Do you have questions about your rights to real property that you shared with another family member or unrelated roommate who has now passed away? If you were not joint tenants, you may still have some recourse, but you will have to act swiftly and with the aid of a very experienced NJ estate planning/real estate attorney.

If you’re currently in a situation like Nicole’s, be proactive and make sure that your living arrangements are solidified for the future by taking title of the home in joint tenancy.

Image credit: Bryan Anthony

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