By Quentin Fottrell

“She has three children from her deceased husband”

Dear Quentin,

I’m 66 and moved in with my girlfriend, who owns her own house. I’ve invested $25,000 in repairs and made half the mortgage payments for the past five years.

My name is on the refinanced mortgage, but not on the title deed.

What happens when he dies if there is no will? She has three children from her deceased husband. I believe the house should be mine. What should I do?

The partner

Dear partner,

If your name is on the mortgage but not on the deed, you are technically a co-signer of the mortgage – and you are responsible for paying the loan – but you are not a co-owner of the property. It’s a tough place to live, especially considering how much money you’ve already spent on repairs. Don’t spend $25,000 on a house you don’t own.

Assuming she is okay with having you on the mortgage, it would be more tax efficient to put you on the deed. She could use a quit claim. These are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “quick claim” acts, likely due to their convenience. They have been designed to make the transfer of ownership both smooth and convenient.

They are usually used as gifts. “Quitclaiming deeds emerged at a time when real estate transactions needed to be as fast and efficient as possible,” according to attorney Barbara Craig. “The California Gold Rush is the best example of a time when the quitclaim deed was essential to transferring property rights quickly and with minimal documentation.”

However, you don’t say (a) how much the house is worth, (b) how long she’s owned the house, and (c) how much you both paid as a down payment. Paying half the mortgage for five years doesn’t necessarily mean you’re entitled to 50% ownership, even if you think that’s fair. As for the renovations, you’ve been painted into a corner.

This is not the first letter I have received with one person’s problem on the mortgage, the other on the deed. This reader wrote that her husband claimed he was afraid she would divorce her if he put her name on the deed to the house he bought before they married. (They had been married for three decades, so it was something that plagued their married life.)

This woman had the opposite problem, writing to say that her ex-husband was on the deed but not the mortgage, and – this is probably the least surprising part of this story – she was the one who had taken on the responsibility to pay the mortgage all these years. In her account, it seems that she was deceived by this particular arrangement.

Since you are unmarried and do not own the house, whether or not you are listed on the deed is now up to your partner. Why are you on the mortgage, but not on the deed? Did you knowingly agree to this? If yes, why? And did your girlfriend know what she was doing? If so, you are counting on his good will to add you.

Check out the private Moneyist Facebook group, where we seek answers to life’s trickiest money problems. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Ask your questions, tell me what you want to know more or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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I was splitting the expenses 50/50 with a friend on vacation. She wants me to share the cost of her credit card foreign transaction fees. Is it a sharp practice?

-Quentin Fottrell


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10-29-22 1721ET

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