- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

A great teacher taught me years ago that many of the nuances of real estate law matter

only when it matters. How you hold title is one of those nuances, and it really matters when it matters.

Consider the case of one of our readers, whose significant other placed both their names on the title in joint tenancy more than three years ago. Just a few months later, the relationship soured, and the significant other wanted to switch everything back to the way it was before the joint tenancy agreement.

This distraught reader wrote that she had “made monetary contributions to all the upgrades done within the house, paying for 90 percent of the total renovations done, which has increased the value of the property as well. I contributed to the household over the years I was there, but did not specify that these funds went to the mortgage, and these funds went to whatever. I just want to be fairly compensated for my ‘loss.’ As a Joint Tenant, technically I am entitled to 50 percent of the equity, right? I am not on the loan. Help, and fast. He sent me a letter from a lawyer, and I want to make sure I know what I am talking about before I respond.”

There are several ways of holding title to property.

For married couples, the joint tenants form of holding title is the most popular, as the property then passes to the surviving party in case of death without being left in a will.

The form of title is established to create such a passing on of property.

Our spurned owner, in this case, actually has a legal foot to stand on with the financial support provided in the property, but primarily, because of the form of title, to receive some sort of remuneration following the impending break up of the relationship.

I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me her best move is to take it to court.

Although joint tenancy is the most popular form of title used among married couples, it doesn’t mean that the ownership title is for just two persons.

If, for instance, you join in a purchase with a couple of investors, this may be a form of ownership you would want to use so that the ownership passes back to the other owners if one of the partners dies.

However, if an investor desires to pass on property to his or her heirs at his or her death, joint tenancy would not be the desirable title. Instead, the investors would want to have title by tenants in common. That’s the subject of another column.

Nevertheless, the reader in this case has a couple of options in the dissolution of this ownership.

She could, as her former beau has requested with an attorney’s letter, sign a quit-claim deed, signing over all ownership back to him.

In divorce cases, this is the usual method of dividing property, but it comes only after a separation agreement and a property settlement has been signed, sealed and delivered via the court system.

Finally, in the dividing of property, someone gets the house — or the co-owners are forced to sell and divide the proceeds.

Here are a few resources in determining how you may want to hold title:

• www.DivorceNet.com offers advice.

• FindLaw.com has a Real Estate Center (https://realestate.findlaw.com).

• www.Relocat.com has an online comparison chart on how to title property.

Contact M. Anthony Carr through his Web log (https://commonsense realestate.blogspot.com).

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