In my last column, I gave the example of a man with children from a prior relationship who purchased a home with his girlfriend. When he dies, who will receive his share of the home?
Since they are not married, the house is not community property. This means there is no presumption that his share of the home will go to her. In fact, unless he takes specific steps, it is unlikely she will receive his share.
Without a will, his share of the home will likely go to his children. At his passing, she will own part of the home and his children will own the rest. She may want to continue living there. However, they may want to move in to the home, sell it or rent it out. She may dislike all of those options.
There is another question that must be answered. Since this man and his girlfriend purchased the house together, how much do each of them own? Unless they each paid exactly half of every cost (including the mortgage, insurance, taxes, repairs, etc.), that will be very difficult to answer. If his estate is passed on to the children, how much of the value of the home is he actually passing on? The answer may create its own fight.
It is difficult when a loved one passes. Without proper preparation, this example – and so many others like it – make a difficult time that much worse. Different parties, each dealing with their own grief, have different understandings what the deceased would have wanted. Without a will, the law may impose a result none of them wanted.
The solutions don’t have to be difficult. For example, by using a will to leave his share of the home to his girlfriend, the questions I raised would be answered simply and effectively. But that result would not happen automatically. Don’t give up control of what will happen to your estate when you pass by failing to have a will.
© 2016 Steven J Wright