Dear Harry: There is a potential problem that is hanging over the relationship between my adult children and me. My husband and I were divorced about 11 years ago. At the time, we jointly owned the house that has been my home since we got married. He died recently leaving no will. Also, he never remarried. One of my daughters has started asking questions about the house. The children did get to share his savings and his personal possessions. I got the feeling that she wanted at least some share of the house and would make me buy it from her in order to stay here. She has always been grabby. My other kids have not said a word, yet. Where do I stand, Harry?
What Harry says: Joint ownership by a husband and wife is usually in the form of "tenants by the entirety." This is an indivisible ownership. Even if it's not stated, a deed that does not specify tenants by the entirety for a husband and wife will be so treated. That means that neither can sell without the consent of the other, and the title goes in full to the survivor. However, divorce creates a whole new problem. Does the divorce agreement give you the title? If this is the case, the property should have been recorded in your name alone. You can still do it by going to office of the Recorder of Deeds. If the divorce agreement said nothing (which is not likely), then the title became "tenants in common" which is a divisible title. As a result, on his death the children would get all of his share (one half) of the value of the house even without a will. The other half is yours. It is not at all unusual for the children to transfer their share by gift to their mother in such situations. I hope your other children can convince the grabby one to do the right thing. *
Write Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, 400 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19130.