Do I own my late parents' house?
March 25, 2015 3:29 PM   Subscribe

My father passed away in 2014 (in TX, if it matters). I am the only heir and my mother pre-deceased him. My father's estate includes the house he lived in. It was fully paid off. There was a court ruling (Dec '14) affirming that I am to inherit his property and that I am the executor of the estate. Do I now own the house? Or is it technically owned by the estate until the (non-mortgage) debts are all finalized?

As of this moment, I have done no title transfer paperwork, so from that perspective, the house is still in my dad's name.

I am currently working on some tax paperwork and there is a question about whether I owned US real estate in 2014 (I am a Canadian resident), and I just want to make sure I answer correctly.
posted by emilisha to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd think that it's still owned by the estate until the debts are settled, but this is a question better handled by an estate lawyer in TX. (My father passed away last year too, and I believe his house and other property is owned by the estate until it's actually transferred out.)
posted by triscuit at 3:46 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

As of this moment, I have done no title transfer paperwork, so from that perspective, the house is still in my dad's name.

I would think that means, no, you do not own it (yet).
posted by Michele in California at 4:11 PM on March 25, 2015

Is the estate still open? Who is the person who is legally handling the estate? If the estate is closed then there is no "your dad" anymore (sorry for your loss) and the house is yours. The house can't be nobody's. It's your dad's, the estate's or yours or the state or bank takes it. That said this is tricky and I'd make sure you check it out thoroughly esp if there's a tax thing involved.

I inherited a house. When we closed the estate (actually a little before I think but about the same time) I got a specific piece of paper that basically said "You own this house now" My understanding, where I live (the US but not TX) is that if I wanted to do something like refi I would have to put the title in my name but until that time it's a good idea to retitle it but not strictly necessary since there is legal paperwork that indicates ownership. More specifically: you should be able to talk to the County clerk or whoever works for the county to see how you'd go about seeing IF you own the house and if so when you became the owner. I don't think ehow is that reliable a source but they have this little set of steps.
posted by jessamyn at 4:12 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The estate is still definitely open. There are debts that still need to be paid (waiting for the "official" correspondence from debtors on this), so I know the liquid assets are all still solidly the estate's and not mine. I am just confused about the house because it will not need to be sold to settle the estate's debts...

Anyway, it sound like the estate owns it....
posted by emilisha at 5:24 PM on March 25, 2015

Best answer: IANYL, but you need to figure out if the tax man (or men, in this case with Canada) cares about "beneficial", as opposed to nominal, ownership of the property during a tax year for whatever rules you are talking about -- because on your facts (executor, sole heir, will approved by the court, no mortgage, presumably enough cash to cover the other debts) an argument can be made you obtained beneficial ownership of the house in 2014, even if you haven't yet taken personal title to it.
posted by MattD at 5:37 PM on March 25, 2015

For the record, my tax people did not care. The estate usually does its own taxes in the US which means it's the one who takes the tax hit for owning the house during the time the estate is open. Do not know how it is in Canada, just letting you know how it works in the US. The estate is like a legal person with an SSN-type number and everything.
posted by jessamyn at 5:45 PM on March 25, 2015

You have to ask the lawyer for the estate. The common law rule is that real estate devolves to the heir immediately on the death of the owner, subject to claims of creditors, etc. The estate proceedings are needed to ensure that the record is clear, but the law does not like a vacuum, as jessamyn has suggested.
posted by megatherium at 7:27 PM on March 25, 2015

The estate, as jessamyn said, is an entity recognized by the IRS and has its own tax identification number. It is likely that the estate currently owns the property, but you really need to check with the lawyer and/or accountant who is handling the estate. In my dad's case, he started an LLC to buy his house for privacy, and so I had to jump through legal hoops to transfer the property even though I was his executor and sole heir. We're still dealing with all the legal funtimes 8 months later.

TL;DR: lawyer.
posted by bedhead at 9:06 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

IAAL and I have researched this issue before. You REALLY need to speak to the estate lawyer. Please do not rely on advice in this thread and make any conclusions.
posted by gatorae at 6:21 AM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

As the executor you have not transferred this property to the beneficiary. As of 12/31/14 the property belongs to the estate. This is based on your description of the circumstances. You will own the property, but don't yet.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:24 AM on March 26, 2015

This varies from state to state and even county to county. Though it seems like you have good advice here, you'll need to go to an attorney local to where your father lived.
posted by tremspeed at 2:02 PM on March 26, 2015

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