Can a will, or similar document, supersede a deed? Please help.
May 14, 2015 2:07 AM   Subscribe

YANML. Home was willed to three siblings, two daughters and a son. One daughter relinquished her share, leaving two siblings to own the home. Remaining daughter, in order to avoid paying taxes and insurance on property, had the home's deed changed into the brother's name ONLY. Can anyone, other than deed holder, make claim to the house. More inside.

My father is the youngest, and only male, of three siblings. His father passed away when he was 14 yrs old. His sisters married, left home, and started families while my dad stayed with my grandmom. We all still live within blocks of one another (South Philly rowhome neighborhood). When dad got married, he tried to buy a home of his own. His sisters told him he was abandoning his mom, so he stayed home. When dad had his second child, he tried again. Same response. Third child, same response. So, Dad, Mom, my two sisters, and I have always considered Grandmom's house to be "our" house. Grandmom grew old, sickly , and bed ridden. My mother took care of her for years, even though the two daughters lived within walking distance. After a long illness, Grandmom died.

Grandmom left a will, and made my aunt (whom shall now be refered to as "evil") the executress. The will left the house to all three siblings, with stipulations that my father could live there until his death; upon his death, if his wife was still alive, she would get his third; if he decided he didn't want to live there anymore, the house would be sold and split three ways.

When hearing of the will, my other aunt (the "good" aunt) immediately visited my father. She said that in recognition of his staying with his mother and for caring for her without help, she wanted him and my mom to have her share. When the evil one found out, she threw a fit and said that the good one's third had to be split between herself and my dad.

Evil aunt (for evil reasons) made it a point to persistently tell my mom and dad that she owns half of the house. My dad tells her that she is responsible for half of the property taxes, insurance, and a lien from the water company that existed since grandmom owned the home. She throws another fit, says she is not reponsible for anything because my dad lives in the house. Then, somehow, she managed to have the deed recorded in dad's name ONLY. She did this solely to stick it to my dad.

After my dad retired, he was having trouble with his car, the house needed repairs, and he wanted to consolodate his debts. I recomended that he take out a mortgage on the house. We asked the broker several times if dad would need his sister's permission. Broker repeatedly said that once the deed was in dad's name, it was dad's house PERIOD. Afew years later he re-financed, and again we asked about the will. Again we were told that evil aunt made a terrible mistake in regard to the deed, she has NO claim to the house, will or no will.

I've been told, by several people, that no bank would provide a mortgage for a home where the ownership was in question.

Now, evil aunt has started her crap again. Threatening mom and dad with calling her lawyer, bringing up the will, talking about her stake in the house and what she feels she is entitled to. I've told my parents to have them call ME, so that I can tell her that it is SOLELY my dad's house, and she can go pound sand.

I thought that laws in regard to deeds of ownership were among the most solid of all laws.

Am I correct? Can someone, who is not my lawyer, shed some light on the matter. I know that I will have to speak to a lawyer eventually, but am I close to right?

BTW. Lets assume that when I say that there have been too many evil and nefarious deeds by my aunt and her family, that I am telling the truth. I'm not looking for a moral decision on grandmom's wishes, just legal comments.

Thank you for your time.
posted by widowsson295 to Law & Government (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why wait to call a lawyer? Call one now and get the ball rolling on finding out where exactly you stand. Better that than speculating but not really knowing whether you are right.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:11 AM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Well for whatever it's worth, and realistically it's not much because not only am I not a lawyer but we don't have anything to prove these people are but the people on this site say:

A will disposes ONLY of the property you own at your death. If you include your 67 Camaro in your will executed in 2000, but sell the car in 2007, then die in 2008, very obviously the will can't go back and undo the sale.

So it sounds like whatever happened after the will was executed has nothing to do with the fact that the will was executed as intended at the time. What happens after is a separate deal...maybe?

But you need a nice shiny lawyer to know this for sure and then to write up a nice shiny letter to evil aunt saying pound sand.

Lawyers say that sort of thing extremely well.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:52 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are fine. If you want to have fun with it, calculate your aunt's half of the property tax, insurance, and water lien from all the years that she didn't own it and submit it to her, with a nice letter showing her how much money she has saved over the years by not owning any part of the house.
posted by myselfasme at 3:10 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

IAAL, IANYL, I am specifically not a real estate lawyer in Philly. Technically your evil aunt sort of had a point regarding the taxes and insurance. If she owned half the house and your family was living there, you should have been paying her rent (half the market rent) for the half of the house you were renting. Presumably that amount would have covered her taxes and insurance. Notice that I say if she owned half the house, because your good aunt should have been completely within her rights to transfer her share to your father, which would have meant your aunt owned one third and your dad two thirds. But the principle still stands, your aunt owned one third of a house and should have been receiving some compensation from the people living there.

It does sound like she made a silly decision with the deed, and there's a good chance that your dad is ok, but you really do need to get a lawyer to look at the deed and all the circumstances surrounding its execution because if there's any chance she can re-open the matter, he might be on the hook for all the time he has lived there without paying her any rent. I take your point that she's really really evil but unless she's legally evil that's not going to help you here. Laws related to deeds are solid, but there are still ways to get around them. Lawyer, fast.
posted by yogalemon at 3:15 AM on May 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

I have bought and sold lots of homes. Deeds can be challenged in court, and they often are. That is exactly the reason people get title insurance - but you will not be able to get title insurance in this situation. Which also means, you can not sell the house. Ever. No buyer is going to buy a house that has a potential legal claim for title from another person.

There is really only one way for you to sleep good at night. You need to start an Action to Quiet Title. This is what an investor does when they purchase a home at a tax deed foreclosure, for example. It is also the process used to make a final decision among competing heirs.

Generally, the person who starts this action has the advantage, as they have all their papers together and are organized. Their lawyer leads the show. Others might not even be able to get themselves down there to present their side in court. And once the legal is action, and judge has declared that this person has clear title, then the deed is unassailable, and then you can get title insurance.

Good Luck. I have been through the process. It is not so bad, but you need a lawyer.
posted by Flood at 4:06 AM on May 14, 2015 [14 favorites]

According to my lawyer husband (who is NYL), it may depend on how the will was worded regarding what happens to the house during your father's lifetime. You may want to start by consulting a probate attorney.
posted by chaoticgood at 5:53 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another benefit of having a lawyer is you can tell your crazy aunt to call THEM and you are shielded from their crazy.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:17 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not looking for a moral decision on grandmom's wishes, just legal comments.

Information about how to find a lawyer is available at the MeFiWiki Get a lawyer page, including free and low-cost legal resources.

I've told my parents to have them call ME, so that I can tell her that it is SOLELY my dad's house, and she can go pound sand.

AskMe is not able to answer your legal questions well enough for you to be able to provide an accurate response to your aunt, especially because there may be facts you haven't listed that may influence what the legal answer is, and because some of the laws that may be relevant to your question can be complicated.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:19 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

IAAL, IANYL, and I came in to say exactly what Flood said. Step 1.) Get a lawyer. Step 2.) Depending on your lawyer's interpretation of the facts, they may recommend taking an action to quiet title. They may not recommend that, though, and you should ask as many questions as it takes to satisfy you that you understand what they are recommending. For your own peace of mind, try to set your expectations low in case it turns out there are facts in your aunt's favor that you have not been focusing on.

And yogalemon is correct as well, as a general rule, that the possessor of a jointly-owned property has an obligation not to waste the property (that is, not to allow title to become clouded by lien or by non-payment of taxes, and not to allow it to fall into disrepair). I very specifically do not know what the details of this doctrine are in Pennsylvania, but that's been the general rule everywhere I _have_ taken the bar. So your aunt's non-payment of taxes &c., may not amount to an admission of non-ownership and may not be a relevant fact in your father's favor.

Really, and for reasons already stated, the only way you can have this question properly answered is by hiring your own lawyer and bringing them all the evidence you can lay hands on, and then asking them lots of questions when they tell you what they think should happen. Good luck to you.
posted by gauche at 8:06 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer.

Why is your family delaying in talking to a lawyer? This is a complicated question with a number of legal issues.

The Philadelphia Bar Association has a low-cost lawyer referral system where you pay $35 and get half an hour of time with an actual, licensed, real, Philadelphia lawyer with experience in a relevant area.

If you don't want to pay the $35, the Young Lawyers Division will be running their free Call-In Legal Line service next Wednesday. I don't have the number, but if you call the Bar Association office, I'm sure you can get it.

As a side note, before you talk to the lawyer, you may want to consider what background details in your narrative are emotionally important and explain are why you're so angry, but not factually important. It's a long story, and lawyers generally charge in 6 or 15 minute increments.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Vague 1L Property/T&E recollections:

From the description, it seems like any debts existing at the time of Grandmother's death should be paid by the estate, not by any of the heirs. If the estate is settled and the lien has only just been discovered, you've got a small mess to deal with.

It also seems that Grandmother's will created a life estate for her son (and potentially daughter-in-law) and remainder thirds to her daughters and the son's heirs. If this is the case, the son (OP's dad) wouldn't owe the sisters any rent. But he would also be responsible for taxes, upkeep, etc from the time his life estate began.

I also remember something about a dead fox.

Do see a lawyer. They will be able to tell you what to do. It is the only way you're going to figure out this mess.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:58 AM on May 14, 2015

You need a lawyer NOW.

The will has to reflect the reality of the situation. The will had a basic assumption that the house was STILL in grandma's name. THEN it'd be split among the 3 siblings. If the title had ALREADY BEEN transferred to the dad's name BEFORE grandma's death, then logically the will would be moot. But you need a LAWYER to be sure that's the case. You need one NOW NOW NOW.

Your dad's the defacto owner of the property, the question is do any of his sisters (your two aunts) have ANY claim at all.

From a completely non-law person, (i.e. me), let's analyze the aunts, let's call one AG (Aunt-Good) and AE (Aunt-Evil)

What exactly was the circumstances of AG's non-involvement? She just never made an issue, or was a formal statement (witnesses, in front of lawyer, etc.) i.e. a quit-claim deed or equivalent recorded?

As for AE's claim, that if AG's quit her claim somehow that left it up to your dad and AE... Here's the real question you need to find out ASAP, even if you have to hire someone to dig up the county records...

1) WHEN was your dad made the sole owner on the deed? Clearly it was while grandma's still alive. But when exactly? And also how? Sounds like your AE don't want to pay any expenses. You'll need cancelled checks for EVERY property tax ever paid. Pay whatever it takes to get them from the bank. You need to prove that your dad was the only one who's taking care of the house (and AE was cackling from around the corner).

2) You said AE put your dad's name on the deed. How exactly was that done? You need EVERY little detail. Was this done at a family meeting? WIth or without grandma? etc. etc.

WHY: If you (or your lawyer) can prove that AE was complicit/actively participated in making your dad the sole name on the deed WHILE your grandma's alive, then this can be argued that she had "effectively" discounted her own stake in the house (i.e. given up). And thus, with the AG's quitclaim (or whatever circumstances she got dis-involved) would make your dad the sole owner, and the will be moot as grandma no longer has a portion that can be given away to her children, i.e. your AE's executing a will that has no practical binding (giving away nothing). (i.e. hoisted by her own petard)

But then, I'm NOT a law person, and you need a lawyer ASAP.
posted by kschang at 9:49 AM on May 14, 2015

IAAL, IANYL. What everyone said about getting a lawyer STAT.

I just wanted to note that the Evil Aunt's act of recording the deed in your father's name could be perceived as her rejecting her claim to one-third of the house, and gifting it to your father. At least, if it came down to it, that's what I would argue.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 12:33 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

« Older Identifying Malware   |   Need help IDing a song Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.