Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

Do Stepchildren Inherit?

When an individual passes away without a will, the state laws of intestacy instruct how the person’s probate estate will be distributed.

Only assets that would have passed through a person’s will are impacted by intestate succession laws. This typically includes only assets owned alone in his or her name.

For instance, in Nebraska, under intestate succession, who inherits depends on whether the deceased had living children, parents, or other close relatives, when he or she died.

In Nebraska, if the decedent was married and died without a will, what the decedent’s spouse will receive depends on whether the decedent had any living parents or descendants, such as children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If the decedent did not, then his or her spouse inherits all of the intestate property.

Under New Jersey’s intestacy statute, when a decedent is survived by a spouse and children who are not children of the surviving spouse (stepchildren), the surviving spouse is entitled to the first 25% of the intestate estate, but not less than $50,000 nor more than $200,000– plus one-half of the remainder of the intestate estate.

However, nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who gets this house after spouse dies with no will?” explains that the laws of intestacy don’t control the distribution of assets that were jointly owned with a right of survivorship (like a house) or that have a beneficiary designation (like life insurance).

If the house was jointly owned as husband and wife in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, the surviving spouse solely owns the entire house by operation of law, upon the death of the first spouse. The stepchildren do not have any right to the proceeds of the sale of the house.

However, if the decedent spouse owned the house only in his or her own name or the house was titled by the spouses as “tenants in common,” then the laws of intestacy would apply.

Tenancy in common is an arrangement where two or more people have ownership interests in a property.

The big difference between joint tenants and tenants in common is that joint tenants have the right of survivorship (which gives them ownership of the property when one owner dies), tenants in common do not.

With a tenancy in common, the tenants can own different percentages of the property.

Tenants in common can also gift their share of the property to anyone upon their death.

Reference: nj.com (May 5, 2021) “Who gets this house after spouse dies with no will?”

change home title

Is It Easy to Change My Home’s Title from Tenants in Common to Joint Tenants?

Many couples may have purchased a home years ago with the original deed titled as “William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith”. In some states, like Georgia, this defaults to tenants in common. With Wilhelmina being William’s wife for decades, they thought it was time to think about changing the title to William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith, joint tenants with right of survivorship.

The Washington Post’s recent article entitled “Changing a home title from ‘tenants in common’ to ‘joint tenants’” looks at whether this would result in any adverse consequences, such as issues with the title insurance or taxes issues.

When you own a home in joint tenancy, should either of the owners die, that owner’s interest automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant. However, when people own a home as tenants in common, each person owns a specific share of that home. Therefore, our hypothetical couple William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith each owns a 50% interest in the home. If either of them were to die, his or her 50% interest in the home would be distributed, as provided in his or her will or as provided by state probate statute.

If people purchase a home but don’t specify how they want to own the property, in most situations, the state law will say how the parties take title to the property when the deed is silent.

You can typically record a new document that puts both William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith on the title to the home, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. When it’s a simple change in the title from tenants in common to joint tenants, most state tax authorities will ignore that change.

To be sure you should ask an experienced estate planning attorney or the office that collects or assesses values in your location for more information. However, it’s a pretty safe bet that the change won’t affect a home’s value.

As far as the title insurance policy, after so many years, it would be doubtful there would be any problems. That’s because the original title insurance policy named William Smith and Wilhelmina Smith as the insured. If they change the ownership from tenants in common to joint tenants, the Smiths are still the owners of the home and still named on that policy.

Reference: Washington Post (July 6, 2020) “Changing a home title from ‘tenants in common’ to ‘joint tenants’”

estate planning

How Do I Make Sure My Wife Gets the House?

Nj.com’s article “Will my wife get my house when I die?” explains that many of life’s transitions and big events, such as marriage, divorce, new job, birth or adoption of a child and others, are the triggers to address in your estate and financial plan.

It’s not uncommon for a person’s decisions made before marriage as a bachelor, not to match up with a future with a new spouse.

As far as making certain that a house with a sister on the deed passes to the spouse, depends on how the house was titled at purchase. The titling of an asset can affect the way in which it would be transferred at death.

With real estate, most frequently, a person would have titled it either as Tenancy in Common (TIC) or Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS).

If a person elects to go with JTWROS, then at his death, the house will avoid probate and pass entirely to the sister.

The law stipulates that the sister would be the full owner of the house, in which the man and his new wife had been living.

If you select to title as TIC, upon the man’s death, his half of the house would go to his estate. This doesn’t avoid probate. Therefore, the rights of the estate will be determined according to the decedent’s will.

However, neither scenario is too great for the wife. This potentially leaves her in a stressful situation upon her husband’s death.

A wise approach is for the man to begin a dialog with the sister and an experienced estate planning attorney, who can help draft an agreement or help to change the titling of the house.

His will and beneficiaries should also be updated at the same time.

Another recommendation is to consider life insurance to provide for the wife after his death.

Reference: nj.com (June 18, 2020) “Will my wife get my house when I die?”

Join Our eNewsletter

Recent Posts
Categories