Can I Kick Out My Annoying Roommate?

Living with a roommate or roommates is a great way to bring down your monthly costs. This living arrangement is especially great for young people starting out on their own before settling down and starting a family. However, jumping into a lease agreement with someone is a serious undertaking, especially if you don’t know the person(s) very well.

If you sign a lease with a roommate, you will be considered co-tenants. It doesn’t matter if you moved in together or if your roommate was there before or after you – if you’re both on the lease, you’re both equally legally responsible for everything in the lease agreement.

What happens if you move in with someone only to discover that your personalities really clash? Perhaps your new live-in mate is horribly late with paying you their fair share of the utilities. Or maybe they’re a night owl and watch (loud) late-night tv shows while you’re trying to sleep.

Whatever differences may arise between you and your roommate, know this: it is exceptionally hard to kick a true co-tenant out. Even if your roommate simply stops paying their portion of the rent, your landlord is likely to demand the full amount anyway. Typically, landlords care very little about in-fighting amongst their tenants as long as the rent is paid in full each month.

Beware: if you stop paying your landlord the full rent payment (because your roommate has shorted you) – you can suffer the same consequences that will be doled out to the non-paying roommate. When one roommate breaks the lease agreement, it affects all of the co-tenants equally.

The only situation that calls for immediate eviction is if your roommate becomes violent toward you. Even the mere threat of violence can be cause for a restraining order. If you are granted a restraining order against your roommate, they’ll be forced to move out post haste.

In order to avoid such roommate conflicts, it’s a good idea to take a page from The Big Bang Theory and rustle up a ‘Roommate Agreement.’ While you most certainly don’t have to get as serious as Sheldon Cooper does (for example: he demands that his roommates stand a certain distance away from the bathroom mirror when brushing their teeth in order to keep the mirror clean) – things like noise limitations, quiet hours, cleaning the apartment, and rent payments can make your life a lot more enjoyable.

You can actually create a legally binding roommate agreement that would give you some power if a roommate stops paying their portion of the rent. You’d have to take them to small claims court, but it may be worth it if your living situation has become unbearable. While a small claims judge doesn’t have the power to evict your roommate, s/he can order full payment of the rent that you’re owed.

And, even if your roommate doesn’t comply with the Court Order, taking them to court may be just enough to make them want to move out on their own.

New Jersey Foreclosure: Frequently Asked Questions

In a New Jersey foreclosure sale, your home will be sold in an auction-type setting. The sale will be publicly announced and will be open for anyone to attend. Since New Jersey is a judicial foreclosure state, the local sheriff will typically lead the auction. If the sheriff cannot conduct your sale, another public official will do so.

Everyone who attends the foreclosure sale is able to place bids in order to buy your former home. As in all auctions, “to the highest bidder go the spoils.” The spoils in this case refers to your mortgaged home.

So: you stopped paying your mortgage payment. For a variety of reasons, people sometimes do this. Maybe you ran into temporary (or permanent) financial trouble because you: lost a job, got divorced, fell ill, made some poor money choices – the potential reasons are endless. Regardless of how you ended up in foreclosure, it’s probably not something you hoped would happen to you one day.

No one goes around saying, “I hope I get foreclosed on at least once in my lifetime!” Because foreclosure something you didn’t wish for – you probably don’t know what to expect. As a general rule, we don’t sit around thinking about things that we don’t plan to experience. Therefore, now that you have found yourself smack dab in the middle of a foreclosure, chances are that you have some questions.

We’ve covered a lot of foreclosure sub-topics here on our blog. Today’s foreclosure question we’d like to answer for you is:

“Who gets the money from the foreclosure sale?”

The normal course of a foreclosure auction is that the bidding remains rather low and the final, winning bid is often less than the house is actually worth. In fact, many times foreclosed homes are sold for less than the original mortgagor still owes the bank. There are, of course, exceptions.

Here is a breakdown of what will happen to the proceeds from your foreclosure sale, who receives payment, and in what order:

  • The first person/entity to be paid from the foreclosure sale proceeds is the New Jersey lender who granted you the loan for the mortgage in the first place. The bank or mortgage company needs to recover as much money as possible because you didn’t repay them like you originally agreed. A small portion of the proceeds will also go toward settling the cost of having the foreclosure auction.
  • If there is still money left after the sale is paid for and the lender has fully recovered the amount they are owed, any secondary lenders (2nd or 3rd mortgage granters) will receive the full amount you borrowed (perhaps for a home equity loan) or as much as possible.
  • After the above parties have received payment in full is the only time you, as the mortagor, will be entitled to receive any money from your foreclosure sale. Keep in mind: you are not likely to receive much, if any, money from a foreclosure sale because foreclosed homes don’t typically sell for as much as they would in a traditional real estate transaction.

In fact, you may even owe money when all is said and done. If the winning foreclosure bidder pays less than you still owe on the property, your lender will suffer a loss. This discrepancy is known as a deficiency balance. As the mortgagor, you can legally be held accountable for this amount.

You can learn more about NJ foreclosure procedures, get the answers to common foreclosure FAQs, and find out how a foreclosure will affect your life on our NJ law blog. We can also help you save your home via foreclosure defense, if that is your ultimate goal.

Do You Understand Your Mortgage’s Fine Print?

Now that the housing/mortgage crisis has begun to level out in most parts of the country, it has once again become a buyer’s market, and this time in a much more reasonable manner. Interest rates are good, but not unbelievably good like they were leading up to the 2007 crisis. As we all know by now: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Just because we’re looking at the US Financial Crisis (2007-2008) in the rear view mirror doesn’t mean that getting a mortgage loan today comes without risks, though. In fact, there is a lot to be learned from the mistakes made a decade ago.

In order to ensure that you aren’t getting yourself into something you can’t handle or something that will change over time (and not in your favor) – you simply MUST have a complete and solid understanding of everything contained in your mortgage agreement.

To most people, this probably sounds like common sense. But have you ever looked at a real, live mortgage agreement? They are very lengthy with a lot of industry jargon that can quickly spin you into a confused puddle on the floor.

Your best bet is to find a New Jersey lawyer with real estate knowledge. Make sure you trust him and his team implicitly – in all likelihood a paralegal may also work with you on real estate matters, so be sure to meet everyone in the office who will be helping you understand your documents.

Questions to have ready for your attorney and/or paralegal include:

  • Is my rate variable or fixed? If the answer is variable, find out the lowest fixed rate that you’ll be able to lock in your loan.
  • Will there be penalties if I have to break my mortgage contract?
  • Am I required to pay mortgage insurance? If so, find out why. You may be able to work with a different lender who will not require mortgage insurance. If mortgage insurance is non-negotiable, be sure to ask how long you’ll be paying it, because it can often be a significant sum.
  • How long does my mortgage loan last? Will different terms lower my monthly payment?
  • What fees am I required to pay up front and are there any fees that were tossed into the total loan amount?
  • Do I have a balloon payment clause?
  • What are mortgage “points?”
  • Is a down payment required?
  • What is my monthly payment?
  • What is my credit score? We left this question until the end for a reason. We wanted to leave you with it on your mind. Finding out your credit score should be one of the first things you do even before you begin applying for mortgage pre-approval.

Your credit score will have a significant impact on the interest rate you will be offered by lenders. If your score is less than desirable, or even “fair”, talk to your NJ real estate attorney and paralegal about waiting to buy a home until you can boost your score into the “good” or “excellent” range. Work with your trusted legal team to raise your credit score. They will also be able to guide you in determining the best time to jump into the real estate market so that you qualify for the best loan options. This will save you a lot of money throughout the length of your mortgage.

 

 

Images: “Chocolates 1” and “Chocolates 2” by Windell Oskay – licensed under CC 2.0

Can I be Evicted Due to my Roommate’s Poor Credit?

Moving in with a roommate can be a great way to split expenses – both rent and utilities. It can also be an extremely fun time in your life as you venture out on your own and begin to explore the world as an adult.

Naturally, deciding to live with someone, whether in your early 20s or later in life, is a big decision and one that must be taken seriously. It’s in your best interest to make sure that the person you choose to live with is trustworthy and easy to get along with. Failure to take the time to find a roommate who meets these criteria can lead to a very miserable living situation.

However, the single most important trait to look for in a potential roommate is financially responsibility. The following “red flags” indicate a deficiency in the money department and should give you significant pause in selecting your cohabitant:

  • Poor credit score (under 620)
  • History of being evicted for non-payment of rent or utilities
  • Frequent moves from one rental to another – This indicates that they may be more likely to break the lease they sign with you.
  • Tells “horror” stories about all past roommates – The whole “it’s not me, it’s them” scenario – if it keeps repeating itself in someone’s life, this is probably not a person you want to live with.
  • Poor references – Ask potential roommates if you can get in touch with someone they used to live with. Today, this can be as simple as a Facebook introduction and a five minute online chat. Look for answers about paying rent, utilities and security deposits as well as paying for any damages that occurred during the length of their lease.
  • Doesn’t hold a steady job or is only employed part-time – Make sure that they pull in more than enough income to pay their portion of the monthly bills.
  • Inability to put down a deposit

If you plan to apply for a joint lease once you find the right roommate, the property owner (landlord) will almost certainly check both of your credit scores. Even if you have a sparkling credit history and a high score, a landlord can decide not to rent to you if your roommate has dings on their credit report.

Typically, landlords won’t turn away potential renters who only have a few dings in their credit history, but if your roommate is saddled with a significant amount of debt, their credit score has likely suffered because of it.

Perhaps you already have an apartment rental and you want to take on a roommate without adding their name to the lease. Depending on the language of your specific lease agreement, you may be required to add any official occupants’ names to the lease. If this is the case, your new roommate’s credit score can prevent them from joining you in your rental.

Knowing that your possible bunkmate has a dubious financial history, you may be tempted to lie by omission and have them “move in” without officially telling your landlord. While this may temporarily avoid a credit check, it may end in disaster if your landlord discovers your covert roommate. If this happens, you and your undisclosed roommate will likely be evicted for failure to follow the rules set out in the lease agreement.

If you feel that you have been evicted unjustly, you should make yourself aware of your rights as a New Jersey tenant.

 

Image: “Moving Day Boxes” by Nicolas Huk – licensed under CC by 2.0

Purchasing a New Jersey Home from a Bankrupt Seller

In today’s housing market, there are still a significant number of homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure. These homeowners usually owe more than their home is currently worth, so they are said to be “upside down” or “underwater.” If they are unable to refinance, and cannot keep up with their payments, they will be foreclosed upon, and are likely to declare bankruptcy at that point.

Should you pursue a short sale on a home that is awaiting foreclosure?

If you already own a home, are pre-approved financially, have plenty of available cash, and at least several months to spend devoted to the complicated process that is a short sale on a foreclosed home, only to have the seller declare bankruptcy and possibly even cancel the whole thing, then yes, a foreclosure might be the right gamble for you.

Beware, though, because as stated, it is highly likely that the seller will declare bankruptcy before the sale is completed, greatly reducing the likelihood that a short sale will close. Short sales rarely yield substantial profits for the seller, so the seller was likely pursuing a short sale in order to reduce the damage to their credit that would result from a foreclosure. However, if they’ve decided to go ahead and file for bankruptcy, the negative effect it will have on their credit is likely to overshadow any benefit from the short sale.

If they were to continue with the short sale despite having filed for bankruptcy, the seller could actually be negatively affected. Their filing for bankruptcy places their belongings, including their house, into a bankruptcy estate, so they don’t have the power to close a short sale easily. If the owner is determined to complete the short sale–normally against the recommendation of their bankruptcy attorney–they will need to pay said attorney an extra fee to pursue permission from the court.

If they obtain permission to close on the short sale, the owner will need to move out of the home much more quickly than if they were to wait out their bankruptcy proceedings. The only potential benefit to the owner comes from the peace of mind that may result from having avoided foreclosure.

With all these complications, it may seem like it’s not worth it to pursue short sales in foreclosure situations at all. However, there are a number of benefits that might be quite appealing: competitive pricing, smaller down payment and closing cost, and a shorter escrow period, to name a few major advantages.

So, if you are going to attempt to purchase a house that has been foreclosed upon, or a house that is in bankruptcy court, don’t go it alone. You will need the expertise and guidance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your real estate agent will be happy to help you find advantageous listings, but consult with a bankruptcy attorney to have help navigating the complicated process to follow. A real estate agent is NOT an attorney, and can in no way fill that role.

Never skip inspections! They may be even more necessary in a short sale situation, but never less so. A 2011 survey conducted by Harris Interactive reported that 72 percent of U.S. homeowners agree the home inspection they had before they purchased their current home helped them avoid potential problems; 64 percent of respondents reported that their home inspection saved them money.

While it is a bit of a gamble to invest in an inspection when you don’t yet have signed contracts, it’s a much bigger gamble to sign papers on a home you haven’t had inspected. If a homeowner didn’t have the money to pay their mortgage, it’s unlikely that they’ve been able to keep up with regular maintenance. If you can’t arrange an inspection, and you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on potential repairs, don’t close the deal on a property, no matter how enticing the price tag.

The takeaway: if you have the time and money to spend on a home that may never be yours, and you find a house that is listed at a price that might make it all well worth the hassle, then take your attorney with you–and buckle up for a wild ride!

Image: “Mortgage Rates” by Mark Moz – licensed under CC by 2.0

 

The Role of the New Jersey Real Estate Attorney

Upon contemplation of purchasing a home in New Jersey, you may be wondering if you should work with a real estate attorney as well as a real estate agent during the process. To some people this may seem redundant, but there are several very good reasons to consider hiring a NJ real estate lawyer.

In New Jersey, state law gives home buyers and sellers a three day “attorney review period.” This three day period begins when a real estate contract is signed. The contract is not considered legally binding until the three day attorney review period has ended.

Many home buyers ignore the attorney review period and ask, “What can my attorney do that my real estate broker can’t do?” The answers follow.

Review legal contracts

During the attorney review period, your NJ real estate attorney will read through the entirety of your real estate contract, looking for any red flags and addressing crucial elements that may be missing. Having your real estate attorney review your contract during the attorney review period will increase your chances of a successful closing without any glitches and without surprises several months from now. Real estate attorneys have been specifically trained in the area of real estate contract law, and they know precisely what to look for, whereas real estate brokers are generally most interested in closing the deal.

Because real estate agents frequently use generic forms that are “one size fits all,” many special circumstances may not be addressed in your purchase agreement. An attorney will notice when crucial details are missing from your sales agreement, and they can add contingencies where they are needed.

Perform a title search

New Jersey real estate attorneys will perform an action called a title search when property is being sold from one owner to another. A title search must be completed in order to determine if a property is free of any liens, judgments, or encumbrances. An attorney can perform a title search much faster and cheaper because of his networking connections and close relationships with title companies in the area.

Legal filings

Often, real estate deeds must be filed with the county and state government. This is more true when commercial property is involved. In these cases, your real estate lawyer will easily be able to assist you with obtaining your tax identification number, establishing your business entity, securing a business license and navigating all of the state regulations surrounding any construction that you may wish to have completed on your new commercial (or residential) property.

Some people choose to move forward with a home purchase without the assistance of a real estate attorney in New Jersey. While this is within your legal rights, it is well worth the extra money and relatively short investment of time to work closely with a lawyer near you who specializes in real estate contract law.

In doing so, you will protect yourself from any problems that may arise during the property transfer process. Some glitches that may occur include: improperly filed deeds, tax issues, undiscovered liens, home inspection challenges/property defects, missing or improperly filed documentation/permits, and failure to properly register commercial property. Your attorney can also attend the closing with you to ensure that everything goes as planned.

Will working with an attorney cost you more money than if you didn’t hire one while you were purchasing a new home or location for your business? YES.

However, the potential money a certified NJ real estate attorney can save you in the long run is indeterminate and can oftentimes be exponential when compared with your initial investment in retaining your attorney’s services. The smart move is to invest in a secure transaction by making sure that your real estate contract is legally binding, in your favor, without errors, and free of encumbrances.

 

Image: “Sherwood Country Club” by Sherwood CC – licensed under CC by 2.0

Can I Receive Hurricane Sandy Forbearance if I Filed for Bankruptcy?

Homeowners in New Jersey and all along the Atlantic coast will be hard-pressed to ever forget Hurricane Sandy – a deadly “superstorm” that hit the eastern seaboard in October of 2012. Assessed as the second-costliest hurricane to ever hit the United States, estimates of Sandy’s damage (in the US alone) are approximately $72 billion. The only hurricane in US history to cause more damage was Hurricane Katrina.

New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit states, with gale force winds that reached 90 mph and heavy rain (up to 12 inches in some locations) which led to flooding and significant structural damage of homes, businesses, beaches, boardwalks, roads, and more. Power outages were widespread and lasted for weeks in some places. For the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange closed (on October 29 and 30) due to weather. Even Halloween was postponed in New Jersey, much to the chagrin of kids across the state.

As we hyper-focus on the damage done by Hurricane Sandy to New Jersey alone, we know that nearly 400,000 homes suffered damage from the storm, many were without power for an extended period of time, and 37 people died.

Relief efforts to clean up and rebuild the damaged areas of New Jersey were impressive, and some (but not enough) federal aid monies were approved for the state. Some of that federal aid was disbursed extremely slowly which means the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is still felt today, nearly five years after the storm.

Residents along the New Jersey shore sustained the most damage – both from flooding and high winds – to their homes and properties. The fact that five years has passed should mean that everyone in NJ has recovered from the storm; unfortunately that just isn’t the case. Although many people and organizations dedicated extraordinary man hours and donations toward the recovery effort, there are homeowners who still remain displaced and/or are facing foreclosure.

The good news is that Governor Christie recently signed a bill (S-2300, A-333) that will potentially offer some much needed help to those who are still struggling post-Sandy. The bill specifically grants Sandy victims with a mortgage forbearance period of up to three years. In order to receive the forbearance, homeowners must have been approved for help via the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program OR the Low-to-Moderate Income Program.

Affected NJ homeowners struggled for years trying to rebuild their homes after Sandy. Without enough funds to make their homes habitable again, a multitude of these residents had to rent alternative housing. Paying rent while still paying the mortgage on their now damaged property pushed many homeowners into bankruptcy.

Many homeowners filed for the protection offered by the Automatic Stay in the hopes that funding would be released before their bankruptcy case was finalized. Not realizing how long it would take for federal relief funds to be released, their bankruptcy cases ended long ago, and many of the homeowners chose not to reaffirm their mortgages.

Now that bill S-2300, A-333 has been signed, those who filed for bankruptcy and didn’t reaffirm their mortgages are wondering if they still qualify for forbearance. The good news is that a lender may not require that a mortgage be reaffirmed in order for the mortgage holder to receive forbearance.

Homeowners who’ve filed for bankruptcy without reaffirming their mortgages may have to provide their lender with a letter acknowledging that the mortgage debt was discharged in bankruptcy. This protects lenders/creditors from worrying that they’ll be sued when they try to collect on the debt again.

It’s very possible that lenders will not feel comfortable discussing the matter directly with the homeowner. They don’t want to seem as though they are breaking bankruptcy law by attempting to collect on a discharged debt. In this case, borrowers should work with a bankruptcy or foreclosure attorney in New Jersey to negotiate with their lender on their behalf.

 

Image: “Crooked House” by Don McCullough – licensed under CC by 2.0

Financial Consequences of a NJ Divorce from Bed and Board

New Jersey couples who want to separate but not completely divorce have the option of choosing a legal process called divorce from bed and board. This is New Jersey’s version of a legal separation.

Why not just sever all ties and get divorced?

While there are many reasons why a married couple may not be ready to commit to a final divorce (irony noted), for the purpose of our finance-focused blog, we’re going to, as usual, hone in on MONEY.

Most spouses who are interested in a bed and board divorce are generally still amiable and see the benefit of working together to end their marriage in the best financial way possible for both parties.

Health Insurance Benefits

Probably the biggest money-saving reason to consider a divorce from bed and board is so that the dependent spouse can retain health insurance benefits even after the couple separates. Oftentimes, married couples have one insurance policy through one spouse’s employer. A bed and board divorce is especially applicable in cases wherein one spouse was a stay-at-home-parent or was otherwise unemployed in the capacity that would allow them to acquire health insurance of their own.

Private health insurance coverage is expensive. Divorcing couples in New Jersey in which the dependent spouse needs access to healthcare on a regular basis (ie. those dealing with a chronic illness) can choose the limited (b&b) divorce option, allowing the dependent spouse to remain covered under their working spouse’s policy until such time that he or she is able to obtain independent coverage.

Tax benefits

New Jersey homeowners who are joint owners due to marriage may be unsure how they want to divide the marital home. Moving from one household into two is, as you can imagine, enormously expensive.

Some married couples who no longer wish to be married recognize that it is wise for them to temporarily continue owning property together. This may mean that both spouses remain living in the marital home until both parties have a better hold on their independent personal finances. Additionally, continuing joint ownership of the marital home helps couples avoid property tax repercussions because the IRS views a divorce from bed and board as identical to a legal separation.

Retaining joint home ownership also gives couples who want it the time they need to transfer the title from both spouses to one spouse. This is because there are generally no time limits on property transfers between spouses who are divorced from bed and board in New Jersey.

Survivor benefits

A limited divorce from bed and board allows survivor benefits on many pension plans to remain unchanged. This is also true of many federal and social security retirement benefits. This can be very important for older couples who are nearing retirement age as well as younger couples who have children.

Although it is true that a divorce from bed and board offers many financial advantages, it is important to work with a family law attorney who has experience in this arena. It is crucial to be sure of the language in your specific benefit package(s) before making any decisions. If your personal finances are keeping you from getting the final divorce you want and need in order to move on and be happy, you may also want to consider filing for NJ bankruptcy.

 

 

Image: “Marriage Rings” by Robert Cheaib is licensed under CC by 2.0

Bankruptcy Law and Family Law: How They’re Connected

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Anyone who has been through a divorce knows that, second only to your love life, your finances are often the hardest hit area during a split. Many people continue to have financial difficulties long after their divorce is finalized, as well. Family lawyers who handle divorce cases know from experience that financial strife can be a huge contention between divorcing couples.

While your family law attorney will assist you in creating a Property Settlement Agreement that settles some of your money troubles (you may begin receiving child support or alimony payments after the divorce is finalized), oftentimes divorced couples will struggle with things like losing their family home to foreclosure, credit card debt, and potential bankruptcy.

As much as your divorce attorney may want to assist you with all of the above money matters, they have to focus their attention on everything within their own wheelhouse to ensure that you (and their other clients) achieve the desired outcome from your divorce. Their duties are many, and include drafting your PSA, attending court dates, negotiating and corresponding with counsel for your soon-to-be ex-spouse, handling domestic violence matters, and much more.

Frequently, family law attorneys find it very beneficial to work in tandem with an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy, real estate and/or debt relief. Because financial strain is a given in most divorces, it can be helpful for everyone involved to work as a team. Your divorce (family law) attorney will walk you through all of the steps of your divorce. With your permission, ideally he would then discuss your case with his tandem bankruptcy attorney, whom you would then work with to clean up your finances.

Of course, family law attorneys attend to matters other than divorce, like name changes, parenting time, grandparents’ rights, pre-nuptial agreements, child custody (unrelated to divorce), adoption, restraining orders, and domestic violence. Some of these matters can also be made easier by working with an attorney who specializes in finances. For example, the financial aspect of adoption matters can be quite intense. While your family law attorney will handle much of the adoption paperwork, he can refer you to a financial specialist like Veitengruber Law if you need more help organizing the necessary finances.

Every attorney has a lot on their plate every single day, regardless of their practice area(s). The best attorneys limit their focus to a limited number of practice areas so as not to get overwhelmed and spread too thin. If your family law attorney attempts to do it all himself, you may find that he’s too busy to set aside time to keep you updated on your case. On the other hand, a smart divorce lawyer will say, “Hey, while I’m working on negotiating your child visitation schedule, why don’t you go see George Veitengruber to start sorting out the fact that you can’t afford your mortgage payment?”

When attorneys work together, their clients always have a better result. Mutually beneficial relationships between experienced professionals give clients a well-rounded experience and optimal outcome. Veitengruber Law welcomes family lawyers in New Jersey (Monmouth, Ocean, Mercer, Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties) to reach out to our firm if and when your clients need our services. We will gladly return the favor so that our mutual clients are well-cared for and happy with our services.

Image credit: Kamaljith KV

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