Dear Mr. Premack: My grandma passed away and still owes the bank $33,000 on her house. My mom lived with grandma just about all her life. We have been making the monthly payments and living in the house. How can we claim ownership of the house even thought our mother’s two siblings don’t want for us to live here? T.G.
First, find out if your grandma left a valid, legal Will. If so, the terms of that Will decide who gets title to the house. If your mother is given the house, or if your grandma gave it to you, the Executor nominated in her Will must hire an attorney to have the Will admitted to probate. The Executor can then arrange for a new deed to be filed showing the identity of the new owners, can notify the mortgage company, and can arrange for you to either assume the old loan or apply for a refinance in your own names.
On the other hand, the Will might leave the house to your mother and her siblings, in equal portions, or just to her siblings. If so, after probate, her siblings have the right to refuse to allow you to live in the house. You may be able to make a claim against the estate to be reimbursed for the mortgage payments you made (but that would likely be offset by the rental value for the time you lived in the house).
If there is no Will, then the house goes to your grandma’s heirs at law, and their identity depends on the structure of her family and her marital history. Since your mother is alive, you are not an heir at law to any part of the estate. Your only hope for a claim is if your grandma had a Will and named you in it to receive all or part of the house.
Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and a Five Star Wealth Manager (Texas Monthly Magazine 2009-2013) practicing estate planning and probate law in San Antonio.
Original Publication: San Antonio Express News, September 3, 2010