Posted on

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The Importance of Understanding How to Take Title

The law of real property is rife with complicated language intended to answers basic questions. “What if I want to add someone as an owner of my property?” seems like a simple enough inquiry, but to a real estate lawyer, answering that question requires a clear understanding of their client’s objective.

Consider a man, Albert Abertson, who owns a home in his name only who wants to add someone else’s name to the title. He has a consultation with a lawyer about how this can be accomplished. To his surprise, instead of being handed a simple form and walking out the door after five minutes with a shiny new title, the lawyer begins to ask questions.

Lola Lawyer, Attorney at Law, asks him “who do you want to add to the title?” Considering this a reasonable enough question, he replies “Bob Bobson.” Ms. Lawyer follows up, “and who is Bob Bobson to you?” Now Albert has always been told to mind his own business and shifts in his chair, uncomfortable with delving too much further into his personal affairs.

This is not being Ms. Lawyer’s first encounter with a reticent client. She senses Alfred’s discomfort and explains, “Albert, the reason I need to know is because it will help me advise you on several important matters. Did you know that adding someone’s name to the title can impact your obligations as a homeowner, have tax consequences, and affect how you plan your estate?” If Alfred is able to let his guard down and answer Ms. Lawyer’s questions, he will be a much more satisfied client long-term.

Alfred will learn about the difference between being a tenant in common, a joint tenant, and taking as marital property. He will learn about the tax implications if Bob doesn’t pay him anything to be added to the title, as well as the impact this could have on Medicaid benefits. He will learn about sharing liability with Bob, as well as the possibility that Bob’s creditors could come after the property.

This is just one example of how seemingly simple questions relating to property can have complicated answers implicating a wide variety of legal topics.

A blog post by Attorney Scott Engstrom.  If you have Property Law questions or require representation, please contact Attorney Engstrom at 920-739-9900.  Mr. Engstrom serves clients throughout Northeast Wisconsin with Offices in the Oshkosh Area and the Appleton Area.   Call now.