FOCUS ON OWNERSHIP: You can’t give away or sell what you don’t own!

Estate PlanningProperty rights are important under the law. Often, clients fail to consider the important question, “Who owns the property?” Ownership is not the same thing as possession. You can occupy a seat at a ballgame or concert as a licensee for the period of that event, but you don’t own the seat. You might rent a room or a house or 1,000 acres, but that does not mean that you own it.

When Dad dies, clients typically assume that Mom owns their property once Dad’s name is removed from the statements of the appraisal district, insurance company, and mortgage company. Mom may discover that assumption to be wrong when she tries to sell the property, borrow money for home improvements, or get a reverse mortgage. She also might be contacted by Dad’s children from a previous marriage about their ownership interest in the property. Sometimes, Mom dies without ever learning that half her property is titled in the name of Dad’s long-dead ex-wife. This is an unpleasant surprise for the next generation and adds time and expense to clearing title and wrapping up the estate.

The law also provides for many and varied interests in property that do not involve outright ownership. For example, a surviving husband might know his deceased wife held oil and gas interests. After researching the matter, though, he might discover his wife did not own those interests entirely but instead held a life estate in them. In such a case, upon the wife’s death, the oil and gas interests pass to the person holding the remainder of the estate, regardless of the wife’s wishes or her family’s understanding of her ownership of those interests.

If you need estate planning, or advice about probate, give us a call.